The word exercise often strikes fear in the hearts of anyone with a chronic illness, but it's a well known fact that everyone benefits from exercise. Amongst its many benefits, it improves mood and stress levels, boosts energy, promotes better sleep, helps control weight and combats health conditions and diseases. It can also improve bone density and build core muscles both particularly important as we age.
If you have a chronic illness, the benefits of exercise will be even greater for you than for most people, but patients will say “but how can I exercise when I feel so sick/fatigued?” The answer is something is better than nothing, so start slowly and build up as your stamina and strength improve – and they will.
If you're able to run a marathon that's great, but no-one expects everyone to be able to do that, most people who don't have lupus couldn't even attempt a marathon. We're not talking about you becoming an Olympic athlete (although some of them do have lupus!), or attaining a rock hard 6 pack (unless you want to). Low impact motion will help keep your muscles and joints less stiff, keeping moving so you can have a quality of life is what is important, so that's what you should (certainly initially) aim for.
As we know, all lupus patients are different so there's no one exercise that will suit everyone. You should look for a low impact exercise that would suit you, that you are likely to enjoy and therefore continue with and which will fit into your lifestyle. Activities such as: yoga, tai chi, pilates, swimming/aqua aerobics, walking, cycling and even dancing may be suitable.
Rebounding on a mini trampoline is fun and very low impact, you can even do this activity whilst watching television! Angie Davidson of the Lupus Trust is a huge fan of rebounding and controls joint pains with this activity, she can answer any questions you have on this activity, please click here to contact her for information on this exercise.
Some patients may be able to take part in more vigorous exercise such as running and other higher impact exercises, but if you haven't exercised for some time it would be advisable to start slowly and gently.
Begin with one or two days a week and five minutes, or even less, until you feel you are able to push yourself a little more. Build up the length of time and frequency that you exercise over a number of weeks, or months, until it's part of your daily routine. It might even be that to start with, you park further away from the supermarket or walk up a flight of stairs instead of using the escalator, then aim to increase your activity.
There's a fine line between exerting yourself and overexerting yourself, which may aggravate your symptoms and is often the reason why people say they can't exercise as it causes them pain.
Some people find it more motivational to exercise with others so consider classes. You may find it useful to keep a journal or chart to track how your exercise programme is progressing. Items such as pedometers and fitness tracker bands may also help keep track of your exercise and show how you are improving.
The most important things to remember are: consult your doctor before commencing exercise or consult a physiotherapist. If you experience pain stop or slow down, you should pace yourself and take breaks when you need them and be sure to rehydrate by drinking plenty of water. Your first goal should be to get moving and that's it!
Professor David D'Cruz says: "Dr Colin Tench spent 3 years with me studying fatigue in lupus patients. We showed very clearly in a clinical trial that exercise improves cardiovascular fitness and there were objective improvements in the measurements of fatigue. The group that were treated with simple stretching exercises did not benefit very much. The other important fact is that regular gentle exercise will not cause lupus to flare up. The difficulty is persuading patients to continue exercising as the fatigue can be so debilitating that they simply do not feel like exercising.
It is important therefore to keep positive and motivated. Clearly if lupus is actively flaring then vigorous exercise should be avoided - as always seek medical attention when needed. Another interesting fact emerged from a study conducted by Dr Rachel Davies in the Lupus Unit. She found that a reduced intake of carbohydrates especially sugars not only helped with weight loss but patients felt less fatigued. My advice to patients taking steroids such as prednisolone therefore is to keep your intake of sugar to a minimum and preferably avoid sugar altogether".