The benefits of regular physical activity simply can’t be overstated. From controlling weight to boosting energy, improving mood, and reducing the risk of chronic illness, it’s among the best things you can do for your health, especially when coupled with sound nutrition. Yet, what happens if you already have a preexisting condition that makes exercise difficult?

For people with autoimmune disorders such as lupus, certain types of arthritis, and fibromyalgia, among many others, periods of flare-ups can make exercise challenging. When low energy levels, widespread pain, and other challenging symptoms manifest, it’s understandable that the last thing you’d want to do is exercise.

Nonetheless, while more movement might seem counterintuitive to controlling pain, it turns out physical activity could actually help control your symptoms. In fact, people with certain autoimmune disorders who exercise regularly may experience a milder disease course, improved mobility, and better cardiovascular wellness. Plus, exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and can reduce inflammation and anxiety.

Of course, to get moving while you’re in pain is a delicate balancing act: too much of a good thing can certainly backfire. For this reason, low-impact exercise is best for people with autoimmune disorders, especially during flare-ups. Here are some recommendations for working out in a way that works for you and your autoimmune condition:

Be mindful of your personal needs.

The symptoms of autoimmune conditions can vary significantly from one person to the next. Moreover, you’re likely to experience good days and bad days. Before you plan a workout for the day, check-in with yourself, and make an honest assessment of how you’re feeling. If you’re too drained or in pain to work out, don’t stress over a missed workout. 

Recruit the experts.

While you can certainly establish a workout regimen independently, it doesn’t hurt to get input from your medical specialists, and perhaps even some physical fitness pros. Whether you work with physical therapists who specialize in joint conditions or a trainer at your local gym who can help you perfect your form, getting expert advice may help you avoid injury and find an approach that best suits your needs.

Go for low-impact exercises.

Explosive, plyometric moves like box jumps and burpees aren’t for everyone. If just the thought of these moves gets your joints aching, don’t fret. There are still plenty of low-impact moves that can elevate your heart rate and provide a quality workout. Cycling, swimming, rowing, yoga, treadmill walking, and Pilates are a few joint-friendly exercises to consider.

Track your workouts.

It’s easy to be consumed by numbers such as calories burned and minutes worked out. Instead of focusing on these metrics, look instead at how you feel before, during, and after a workout. Check for patterns that may help you better understand which types of exercise are best suited for your body and when. For instance, if you feel particularly sore after one type of workout, it may be best to scale back next time or skip that activity altogether. If, on the other hand, you feel loosened up and relaxed afterward, consider adding that type of exercise to your regular regimen.

Fuel your body appropriately.

For people with autoimmune conditions, good nutrition isn’t just about staying healthy. It’s also an important component of controlling inflammation, a common concern in autoimmune diseases. An anti-inflammatory diet in which you avoid red meat and heavily processed foods while prioritizing lean protein, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids could help you feel even better after your workouts.

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