Lifestyle Changes for People Living with Lupus
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2020 | Last updated: March 2020
Changes to your lifestyle will not cure lupus, but certain management techniques can make you more resilient to lupus symptoms. Taking care of yourself also helps you balance your physical and mental health. Perhaps best of all, many lifestyle changes are free, or very inexpensive compared to the costs of medical care. Here are a few things you can try.
Smoking and lupus don’t mix. Several studies have shown that smokers, and especially smokers with lupus, have higher levels of certain antibodies in their bloodstream. Higher levels of these antibodies are tied to having more active lupus and more complications from lupus.1-2
Another study found that smoking interferes with how well antimalarial drugs work. This means that the most common medicine used to treat lupus works less well in smokers.3 It also makes you more susceptible to respiratory infections.4 Finally, people with lupus have much higher rates of cardiovascular disease, making smoking especially dangerous since it increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes as well.
The Lupus Foundation of America offers several tips to help you quit smoking, including how to build a plan to quit, working with your doctor, enlisting support, beating cravings, and rewarding yourself for your hard work.5
Exercise has many benefits, both physical and mental. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking, dancing, or lifting weights builds muscle and strengthens bones. Exercise also lifts mood, reduces stress, and helps clear the mind. If you feel unsure about which activities may be safe for you to try, your doctor or a physical therapist can help you find exercises that are right for you.6
Stress weakens the immune system and places an extra burden on your body. That is why lowering stress is one of the first things your doctor will recommend to help you manage lupus better. However, what reduces stress in one person can cause more stress in someone else. You will have to find what works for you. Some people cut back on housework and other chores. Others find a way to spend more time with friends and family. Hobbies, meditation, volunteer work, massage, yoga, and acupuncture are among the many ways people reduce stress.6
A well-balanced diet rich in nutrients will support your body and help keep you healthier. Generally, doctors recommend fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, but you may need to adjust some of the favorite recipes if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or digestive problems.
While there is no special lupus diet, doctors do recommend that you avoid garlic and alfalfa sprouts. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish, nuts, and flax, can boost mood and improve heart health. Many people with lupus need extra calcium and vitamin D in their diet to avoid osteoporosis.7
People with lupus should limit their alcohol intake since it can affect how many drugs work or worsen some lupus symptoms.7
Avoiding infections as much as possible helps your immune system stay stronger. Basic infection control methods include:
- Wash your hands often, especially when you come in from outside or have been shopping
- Avoid people who are sick, especially colds and the flu
- Get an annual flu shot and pneumonia vaccine
- Stay current on all other vaccines
If you do get sick, see your doctor right away to shorten how long you are sick and reduce the chances of serious complications.6 This is especially important if you are on medications that weaken your immune system.