Five Things People with Lupus Should Know Before Starting a Springtime Exercise Routine

by Sarah Stothers, RN, BS, Lupus Foundation of America Health Educator
The best part about warm weather is our renewed ability to enjoy outdoor activities. This can be highly beneficial to people with lupus.  However, it’s best not to jump right into a rigorous exercise program. This is a good time to ease your body into the idea of working out.
Lupus patients can and should take part in physical activity. Before doing this, you should discuss with your physician or physical therapist what the best type of exercise will be for you. When you plan an exercise routine with your physician, take into account the level of activity that you have kept up earlier in the year. If you have been exercising through the winter, you may find it easier to exercise than if you are beginning now—not only is your body more conditioned, but the cooler weather is easier on your body in many ways. Whether you are beginning (or renewing) an exercise routine now, or whether you have been working out throughout the year, there are a few key things that all people with lupus should know about exercise. Before heading out the door, remember the following five points.
1. Walking, swimming, bicycling, low-impact aerobics, certain types of yoga, Pilates, and stretching can help tone muscles and minimize joint aggravation. Exercises such as these are excellent for preventing osteoporosis, the disease in which individuals lose bone mineral density.
2. Although, at times, exercise may be the last thing on our minds, it is good to stay as active as possible. This prevents the muscles that are no longer being worked from becoming weak. It is also important to vary your exercise routine in order to promote the strengthening of different muscle groups throughout your body.
3. In addition, exercise is good for relieving stress. And, as you may know, stress can trigger a lupus flare. However, it is vital to pace yourself! When you try to do too much, that increases your feelings of stress and can also contribute to the disease flaring, which may then create even more stress. Don’t push yourself too hard. You have to find a nice balance that works for you. It is important to allow your body to rest and recuperate.
4. If you experience severe pain, or stiff and swollen joints, you should avoid or limit activities that contribute to feelings of pain. Always take breaks if needed! It is a good idea to limit exercises that are high-impact, such as jogging, weightlifting and high-impact aerobic exercises. These can place strain and pressure on the joints.
5. If you do experience pain and joint aggravation, there are a few ways to relieve this:

  • Joint and muscle pain can be relieved by heat and/or cold application. However, most heat has been shown to soothe painful joints much better than dry heat. Try taking a warm shower, using a warm moist towel or soaking in a hot bathtub. These can help soothe aches and pains.
  • Other methods to relieve pain can include behavioral techniques, such as relaxation, meditation, focused breathing, low-impact yoga, Tai Chi and guided imagery. These methods allow you to draw your mind’s attention away from the pain and to focus on relieving stress and tension that can intensity the pain experience. These techniques are safe and easy to do at home and allow you to control your pain rather than suffer through it.
  • Ice or cold applications are advisable only for strained or twisted muscles or injuries.  Follow the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation) method to relieve pain, reduce swelling, and speed healing. Begin right after the injury occurs and continue for at least 48 hours.

Work with your healthcare team and develop a plan that benefits you while also limiting any discomfort. Finally, make sure you protect your skin against the sun’s rays. Slather on the sunscreen and wear a broad brimmed hat before you walk out that door! Enjoy the warm weather and put a spring in your step by trying to include a little bit of exercise in your daily routine. A walk around the block can do wonders!

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