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Physical activity and lupus

Your own design

Karen Miller
Physical activity and lupus

Regular physical activity might not be high on the to-do list of people with lupus. That’s understandable given the side effects of the disease. Muscle pain, muscle weakness and fatigue take a toll.

The emotional impact is high as well. A recent study published in Medicine found that 25% suffer from major depression and 37% from anxiety.

Clearly not a good recipe for exercise.

Yet, it is these very complaints that warrant physical activity. It seems a bit incongruous, but movement is an elixir of sorts. Stiff, painful joints are soothed and lubricated with range of motion activities. Strengthening exercises beef up musculature.

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But mental health may benefit even more. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise has shown to be effective at reducing fatigue, and serves as a medication of sorts for some people with depression and anxiety. A study published in Arthritis Care & Research found that lack of activity may have a greater impact on those with lupus than previously understood. Physical inactivity in non-white women with lupus at baseline of the study was highly predictive of the onset of depression over the next two years. The results suggest an urgent need to reduce sedentary behavior in this high-risk population.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week for adults, but that’s more of a target for those starting out. Caution must be taken when initiating an exercise regime. It is wise to first consult your rheumatologist or physical therapist.  Also, you might have to scale it back a bit during a flare when symptoms worsen.

Low impact activities are good for a starter. Try walking, biking, swimming, yoga and tai chi.

Another main reason to exercise regularly is to maintain the health of your heart. Exercise lowers blood pressure and reduces the risk of diabetes, obesity and inflammation — all highly correlated to heart disease. This is particularly critical for women with lupus. The risk of a heart attack in women with lupus aged 35 to 44 is 50 times greater than that of comparable women without lupus, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The good news is that there is not a particular program to follow. Just as no two cases of lupus are alike, no two exercise plans are identical. You develop a plan that works for you. Set your own pace.

You call the shots.

Olympics out of reach? Not necessarily


Lupus does not necessarily relegate you to non-competitive sports. Shannon Boxx proved that several years ago. Boxx, a former Olympic soccer player, was diagnosed with lupus in 2007 after struggling with muscle and joint pain and fatigue. Yet, she went on to earn gold in the 2012 Olympics as part of the U.S. women’s soccer team.

In an interview with CNN, Boxx explained that a mixture of medication and alterations to her training routine allowed her to compete. Rest days kept her flares under control.

Boxx won gold medals at the 2004 Athens Olympics, 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics.