Patient Resources | Wellness and Exercise

Exercise Tips for Lupus Patients


Symptoms of lupus, such as pain and fatigue, can make exercise a real challenge. But it is a challenge worth taking when you and your doctor agree you are up to it. Regular exercise has many benefit, including:

  • Increasing muscle strength
  • Helping prevent joints from getting stiff
  • Helping prevent osteoporosis, thinning of the bones
  • Helping keep weight under control
  • Improving your heart and entire cardiovascular system
  • Helping reduce stress

Many types of exercise are appropriate for people with lupus, including swimming and walking. The Lupus Center physical therapist or occupational therapist can assess your current condition and design an exercise program for you. It is important for you to share your personal physical goals with the therapists, physicians and other members of the Lupus Center health care team so they can work with you to help you meet your goals.

Different types of exercise can help you in different ways.

  • Range-of-motion exercises help maintain normal joint movement, relieve stiffness and increase flexibility. Stretching is a range-of-motion exercise.
  • Strengthening exercises help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints, which are often affected by lupus. Weight-lifting is a strengthening exercise.
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight, and improve overall function. Brisk walking, running and swimming are aerobic exercises.

Stress Reduction

Coping with a chronic illness such as lupus can be stressful. Feeling upset or stressed out is a possible trigger for flares. Feeling frustrated, angry or alone can come from not being able to control lupus or the changes to your body. This added stress can make the symptoms worse.

There are many different ways of managing stress, including exercise and relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga. Find the one that works best for you.

Here are some approaches that might help cope with stress.

  • Stay involved in social activities.
  • Practice relaxation methods such as meditation and yoga.
  • Develop and maintain a good support system, which may include family, friends, members of the Lupus Center health care team and support groups. These groups can help you realize you are not alone in having to cope with lupus. They can provide emotional help and boost self-esteem and morale. Group members can learn from each other on how to handle stress.
  • Maintain proper posture while using a computer, reading or writing. You may have to prop up books or raise or lower your computer screen so your head and neck are properly aligned. (Ask the physical or occupational therapist for guidelines or how to get them online.)
  • Adjust your computer keyboard and chair to proper positions for your body size.
  • Take frequent rest breaks and move your neck and shoulders to relax.
  • Follow recommended guidelines for use of backpacks. (Visit the American Occupational Therapy Association website for more information.

Exercise Tips

From a Physical Therapist

  • Check with a physician before starting any exercise program.
  • You will be most successful if you set small goals and gradually increase your routine as you get stronger and are able to exercise longer.
  • Begin your workout with stretching and warm-up exercises and end with cool down and more stretching.
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day (not just immediately prior to exercise).
  • Include cardiovascular, strengthening and stretching exercises in your routine.
  • Make it fun. Find an exercise activity you really enjoy. That will make it more likely you will do it. It is often said that the best exercise is the one you actually do.
  • Exercise with a friend. This also makes it more likely you will exercise.
  • Change your exercise activities depending on how you feel. You may have to cut back on your routine on one day, only to bounce back the next time.
  • Report any pain and/or discomfort you may be having with your exercise routine to your therapist or physician.