Lupus Exercise Tips

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020

When lupus makes you tired or hurt, exercise may seem like the last thing you want to do. But, there are 2 big advantages to forcing yourself to move: heart health and better moods. Studies show that exercise helps fight the increased risk for heart disease which people with lupus face.1

Benefits of exercise for people with lupus

Studies show that physical activity can help relieve the symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, and joint pain. Exercise also helps burn calories, lowers cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, builds muscles, and strengthens bones. Why?

Any activity that works the muscles helps move oxygen-rich blood through the body. As the muscles work, they get stronger and burn more calories. A stronger heart muscle helps fight the heart disease that people with lupus are so prone to develop. Stronger muscles also mean better balance and the ability to do more of what you want to do.

One small study found that people with lupus who exercised had less active lupus than those who did not exercise.4

Other benefits of exercise for people with lupus include:

  • Fights fatigue by giving you energy
  • Eases inflammation by reducing extra pounds
  • Stabilizes joints by building the muscles around them
  • Improves flexibility and range of motion
  • Lifts mood by releasing feel-good chemicals (endorphins)2

Activities built for lupus

Do not let images of elite athletes keep you away from exercise. A walk around the block, a dance class, or lifting small hand-held weights at home can all contribute to a healthier you.

Examples of low impact activities that are generally good for people with lupus include:

  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Yoga, tai chi, Pilates
  • Lifting weights2

How much exercise do I need?

Most doctors agree that 30 minutes of exercise a day, 5 to 7 days a week, provides the best benefits. However, this goal may be unrealistic for some people with lupus. Or, you may need to work up to that much exercise carefully over time. You may need to start at 5 to 10 minutes, 3 times a day.3

Talk with your health care team about which activities may be best for you. You may need to see a physical therapist or trainer who specializes in helping people with chronic conditions. They may also know about free activities you can try.

Remember, it takes time to build muscle and energy. You may feel better right away after exercise. If you do not, give yourself at least 3 weeks to get over the first feelings of exercise fatigue. Then, you can expect to feel better when you work out.3

The Lupus Foundation of America provides a low-impact exercise routine for people with lupus.

Cautions for exercising with lupus

If you are in the middle of a flare, do not push yourself to try intense exercise. You do not want to aggravate the flare and make it worse.

Always wear sunscreen and clothes to protect yourself from the sun.

The good news is that a good variety of mild intensity exercise done in reasonable amounts can be accomplished by most people with lupus.

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