Lupus and Exercise


We, at Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus, are not doctors or physical therapists.  Therefore, we cannot assume to know the appropriate exercise program for you with your specific health limitations and/or concerns.  We know exercise is not a “one size fits all” solution.  This blog is only intended to inform you on the medically proven benefits, as well as, the variety of fitness options out there, so that you may have an open conversation with your medical provider about what type of exercise is most beneficial to you.


“An object at rest, tends to stay at rest.  An object in motion tends to stay in motion.”  

– Newton’s First Law of Gravity

This law certainly applies to you and me and exercise.  Now, don’t get me wrong… we all need to rest.  Additionally, it is crucial to follow doctor’s orders if you have been asked to rest, and not to exercise.  However, for those who have been urged to exercise, but don’t…this blog is for you.  Hopefully, this information will open your eyes to the different (and even fun) ways you can “stay in motion” and possibly even help your body and lupus symptoms through exercise.  

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects multiple systems in the body.  It can cause debilitating fatigue, muscle and joint pain and drastically affect one’s quality of life.  Physical exercise is not only an important tool to maintaining a healthy body mass index, and reducing metabolic issues, it also lowers your risk for cardiovascular incidences.  This is an extremely important reason to get on the fitness train, because cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots) is the number one cause of death in people with SLE.  Thankfully, exercise, (especially light-to moderate aerobic exercise) decreases the risk of developing these complications.  In addition, exercise has these known benefits:

  • Decreases bad (LDL) cholesterol
  • Increases good (HDL) cholesterol
  • Decreases high blood pressure
  • Improves range of motion in joints
  • Decrease muscle stiffness
  • Increase energy levels
  • Helps with diabetes
  • Helps maintain a healthy body mass index
  • Increases muscle mass
  • Increases bone density
  • Help improve sleep
  • Helps decrease depression
  • Helps with anxiety and stress
  • Improves memory


As mentioned above, there is no “one size fits all” regarding exercise.  And quite frankly, everyone’s personal preference is different in regards to fitness.  Some people love going to the gym, some would never feel comfortable stepping foot in a gym.  Some people only exercise outdoors, some people don’t want to leave their home.  Some people want to exercise with a partner or in a group, some want to do it by themselves while listening to their favorite workout jams.

The trick is finding what is appealing, making it fun, and making it a routine.  In a recent article, Dr. Davis Wofsy MD, at the University of California at San Francisco, suggests that low-impact (walking, swimming, elliptical machine) exercise can improve muscle strength, ease muscle stiffness and increase joint range of motion.   Additionally, the American College of Rheumatology urges people with lupus to attempt to incorporate four different types of exercise into their fitness routine.  These include:

  • Flexibility exercises – these exercises reduce stiffness and increase range of motion in the joints through stretching.  
  • Strengthening exercises – these exercises can contribute to better joint support and increasing muscle mass by working the muscles more vigorously through resistance training or weight-lifting.
  • Aerobic or “cardio” exercise – these exercises improve heart and lung function by increasing the heart rate.  Some aerobic exercises include step classes, dancing and cycling.  
  • Body awareness exercise –  these exercises improve posture, balance, coordination and muscle strength.  These include tai chi, yoga and Pilates.  Sometimes they are referred to as “low-impact” exercise because they can improve muscle tone without damaging your joints.  


  • Make sure that you have comfortable, supportive clothing for your fitness routine.  The right shoes can make all the difference!  If you have foot problems, check out this helpful website.
  • If you are photosensitive, make sure if you are exercising outside, you are wearing UV protective clothing and are avoiding the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm when the UV rays are the highest.  Investing in a UV sensor, like SHADE may be very helpful as well.  
  • Start slowly, don’t be taking a CrossFit class on your first time back at a gym in five years.  Gradually try to build up to 30 minutes of exercise a session if that has been cleared by your doctor.  
  • Put it on the calendar.  Make it a regular part of your lifestyle.
  • Make it convenient. It will increase the odds of you following through. 
  • Choose something fun!  And add variety.  Mix it up! Try a yoga class, then go for a walk with a friend.  It is good for your muscles and for your mind!
  • Don’t give up if you are sore or tired after a workout.  Everyone is.  
  • Don’t get discouraged if a flare, an infection, or life gets in the way of your fitness routine and you stop for a while.  Come back to it when you can.  Life happens.  
  • Track your success and be proud of yourself that you are being proactive with your own health!


Danielle, from our Portland lupus community has stage three nephritis.  She recently finished a six month high dose steroid therapy for her kidneys. Above everything she has been given for her lupus, she feels exercise is her only saving grace.  She states, “I believe working out to be the best medicine for my Lupus.”  Danielle has a passion for cycling and not only enjoys taking cycling classes but teaching them as well.  

Margie is a local member of our support group who suffers from the lupus overlap condition, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. She finds rejuvenation by taking tai chi classes.  Since starting tai chi two years ago, she states that, “It has definitely improved my balance and overall strength and fitness.”

Kelli, or should I say, me –  who has had lupus since the age of eleven.  I have always enjoyed dancing, I love taking yoga and going on a nature walk.  It is not easy, but I know that I always feel better physically and emotionally in the long run if I push myself to exercise.


Tai Chi for beginners:

Chair Yoga:

Water therapy exercises:

Low-impact gym exercise tips:


Dr. Donald E. Thomas, Jr. (2014). The Lupus Encyclopedia, Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 676-677.


Author:  Kelli Roseta

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All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views expressed here do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your healthcare practitioner with any specific questions or concerns.