Exercise and Autoimmune Disease: How to Start Small and Build

For those living with an autoimmune disease there is no one-size-fits-all approach—not for diet, emotional health, or exercise. Rheumatoid arthritis, Celiac disease, lupus—the list is long (very long), affecting nearly every part of the body.

Still, evidence suggests that the long-term benefits of exercise far outweigh the temporary discomfort autoimmune disease sufferers may feel when they exercise. Many patients do in fact implement effective, long-term physical therapy regimens that benefit their overall health and help manage their conditions.

As with most things, the trick is working smart.

So, here are some simple tips and guidelines that can help people living with autoimmune disease workout more while limiting discomfort.

  1. Take it slow.
    Especially when you first start out. As you work through the first couple weeks of your workout regimen, identify what works and what doesn’t. Find the pace that is right for you, work within your capability, and slowly build up stamina.
  2. Listen to your body.
    This is crucial, especially at the outset. If your energy is low, or you feel that you are pushing beyond your limits, take a break and don’t lose sleep over the decision. Overworking has been known to cause flare-up, something you’ll want to avoid. This means working out smart and knowing the warning signs for your specific condition.
  3. Start with low impact workouts.
    Walking, light jogging—these are easy, low-impact workouts you can begin right away. Swimming, treadmill work– particularly on an AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ and yoga are three more options that are easy to work into slowly. Find something you enjoy and ease into it.
  4. Warm up and cool down.
    Autoimmune disease or not, a thorough warm-up and cool down is overlooked by far too many people. Making a habit of pre- and post-workout routines will help you ease in and out of your regimen and avoid shocking your system.
  5. Hydrate, eat well, and sleep.
    It’s an age-old principle for a reason. Drink six to eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Avoid refined sugars, unhealthy fats, and processed foods. And go to sleep, ideally for eight hours or more a night. You’ll feel energized and motivated for your workout.

It’s a simple list, and that’s perfectly okay. Start small, build stamina gradually, and remember that even the most basic workout guidelines require one very important thing: a positive and courageous attitude. This will be a long-term commitment that will require adjustments—what worked last month might need a tweak in the month ahead. Fear of pain, difficulty, the unknown—these are natural sentiments to have at the beginning of something new and challenging—especially when living with an autoimmune disease. But fear should not prevent you from exercising your body. The payoff will be more energy, better sleep, and fewer flare-ups.

The result will be an improved you.