Easing into a Fitness Routine When You Have Lupus

Thinking of starting an exercise routine can seem more daunting than the workout itself. Are you contemplating YouTube videos or joining the local gym?  Trying to decide between Zumba or Pilates? Stretch pants or yoga pants?  Toss in the fact that you have lupus and do you wonder if you’ll even have the energy to drive to a class or be able to keep it up regularly (and make it worth the monthly membership fee). All of this may deter you before you even get started.


While you may understandably not feel like lifting a finger some days, some of the difficulty to motivate yourself to exercise may lie in the pressure many of us put on ourselves to live up to today’s social norm of attending boot camp classes, chiseling out six-pack abs, or practicing the perfect warrior pose. You may not believe me now, but exercising with autoimmune disease doesn’t have to be that difficult – there are many workout options available today that won’t break the bank and more importantly, break you or your spirit.

In this article we’ll take a look at why it is important to exercise when you have lupus and how to go about choosing the program that’s right for you. Instead of focusing on squatting your way to perfectly toned thighs or bench-pressing your body weight, consider that moving even just a little each day may make you feel better with time. You may find yourself with more energy to cope when you’re running low on spoons as you practice self-compassion and care.

The Benefits of Exercise When You Have Lupus

A study published by the American College of Rheumatology shows that individuals with SLE can benefit significantly from exercise. In the individuals studied, researchers reported an improvement in “aerobic capacity, functional capacity, exercise tolerance, oxygen pulse, fatigue, depression, and quality of life.”

Exercising can also improve:

  • Stress levels – Exercise has been shown to increase our levels of neurotransmitters such as endorphins which can help us push through physically distressing situations, mask discomfort and pain, and build endurance. Feeling physically better can also improve your mood, increasing the odds for feeling better and – dare I say it – feeling happy!
  • Quality of sleep – When you sleep better, you feel better – and vice versa. This is one treadmill I will gladly hop on.
  • Bone density – Weight-bearing activities such as walking or low-impact aerobics can strengthen your muscles, which in turn, feed your bones and ward off conditions such as osteoporosis. Exercising can help protect your body from the negative effects of aging.
  • The frequency and duration of lupus flares – Since exercise can relieve stress, and stress is a known trigger for a flare, you can actually decrease your chances of experiencing one by exercising.

Before you jump-start your fitness routine, however, it’s important to consult your healthcare practitioner. You will want to consider your current fitness level, aches and pains, any injuries you’ve experienced, and – most importantly – your overall health. Together, the two of you can determine the program that’s right for you – what you may have been able to do before may not be the same now. It’s better to take things in stride to avoid making matters worse and to ensure you’ll stick to a plan in order to reap the rewards. You can always go back and make adjustments to your routine as your strength and stamina increases.

Choosing the Program That’s Right for You

Today, there are many options to choose from when selecting an exercise routine:

  • Walking – Walking outdoors can not only help you build endurance, but also gets you out in nature which can provide stress relief.
  • Swimming – Swimming can be easy on your joints, while still enabling you to build muscle and improve your cardiovascular health. It is a great way to work all the muscles of your body – you’ll build great upper-body and arm strength. If you hate sweating, swimming in a cool pool of water may be a great option.
  • Bicycling – Bicycling – especially on a recumbent bike – is easy on your back and provides an exceptional cardio workout while you strengthen and tone your lower body.
  • Yoga – Some forms of yoga can help tone muscles while being gentle on the joints. Yoga enables you to focus on your breathing which in turn can also provide stress relief. Restorative yoga allows you to use props such as belts to alleviate pain and discomfort. Hatha yoga is also a good way to ease into a new yoga practice, as it can be a gentle.
  • Pilates – Pilates can help you increase strength and flexibility while engaging and building your core. Your posture will improve with this gentle low-impact activity. Don’t be frightened – you don’t need that complicated Pilates equipment that looks like a medieval torture device to workout. There are many pilates routines you can do at home with nothing more than comfy clothes and a yoga mat.
  • Stretching – Stretching is a great workout option for preventing injury. Stretching can keep you limber by keeping your hips and hamstrings flexible, which in turn can help later in life as our ability to move fluidly generally decreases. Stretching can also improve posture and alleviate conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

When considering which type of exercise is best for you, it’s not only important to take your health into consideration, but your personal preferences as well. Don’t force yourself to hop on a bike if you have a hard time keeping your balance or are unnerved by traffic.  Walking through the park or even on a treadmill listening to music may be more your speed. Though it can be gentle, yoga may seem boring to you and you may not like the idea of being in a class with other people – a good pilates workout that you can watch on DVD may provide a bit more autonomy and a bit more of a challenge as you can move at your own pace. If you like the choices a gym provides, but are on the fence about joining because you feel like you’ll be judged, here’s an important piece of advice I recently heard: people at the gym are not watching you – they are there to exercise, just like you are.

In Conclusion

Try to not let the idea of exercise stress you out – remember it’s supposed to do the opposite. Accepting where your body is now and treating it kindly by not over-doing it will be key to your success.  Set realistic expectations.  Take into account that some days walking to the mailbox may seem like running a marathon.  This approach will help make your wellness goals attainable. You may be surprised at how much you actually can achieve.


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A beginner’s guide to 8 major styles of yoga. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.gaiam.com/blogs/discover/a-beginners-guide-to-8-major-styles-of-yoga
Abbate, E. (2019). 8 things to know before you take Pilates classes. Retrieved from: https://www.self.com/story/5-things-to-know-before-you-take-pilates-classes
Collins, S. (2014). The truth about stretching. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/how-to-stretch#1
De Carvalho, M., Heidecher, R., Neto, T., Sato, E., Schenkman, S., & Tebexreni, A. (2005). Effects of supervised cardiovascular training program on exercise tolerance, aerobic capacity, and quality of life in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/art.21605
Howard, P. (2015). March’s topic of the month – exercising with lupus. Retrieved from: https://www.lupusuk.org.uk/lupus-and-exercise/
Robinson, K. (n.d.). Retrieved from: Swimming. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/swimming-for-fitness


Author: Liz Heintz

Liz Heintz is a technical and creative writer who received her BA in Communications, Advocacy, and Relational Communications from Marylhurst University in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She most recently worked for several years in the healthcare industry. A native of San Francisco, California, Liz now calls the beautiful Pacific Northwest home.

All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at [email protected] for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus.

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.

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