Physical activity can help improve psoriasis flares and increase periods of remission. Activity may further reduce the risk of developing other illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes.

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Physical activity offers many health benefits, especially for people with psoriasis. It can help them maintain a moderate weight and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

However, the sweat, heat, and stress of working out may also trigger or aggravate psoriasis symptoms. Pain and fatigue are also common issues that make it challenging for people with psoriasis to exercise.

This article discusses how exercise can help with psoriasis and provides tips for effective and safe activities for people with psoriasis.

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Psoriasis affects approximately 3.2% of the United States population and about 2–3% of the world’s population.

Further research suggests that psoriasis occurs in 3.6% of white people, 1.9% of African American people, and 1.6% of Hispanic people.

This condition occurs equally among males and females.

It is an autoimmune skin condition that causes crusty, flaky patches called plaques to occur on the skin’s surface. These plaques may appear red on light skin and purple or violet on darker skin.

Areas affected

Psoriasis plaques can appear anywhere but commonly occur as small patches on:

  • the hands
  • feet
  • elbows
  • knees
  • neck
  • scalp

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of psoriasis here.

A person may alternate between periods of active disease, called a flare, and periods of inactivity or remission. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the type of psoriasis a person has.

A person with psoriasis is also at an increased risk of arthritis, depression, diabetes, and heart disease.

Triggers

Specific triggers can cause symptoms to appear or worsen. These vary from person to person but include:

Learn more about psoriasis in our dedicated hub.

The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends that people with psoriasis do at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise plus strength training at least five times a week.

A 2018 study found that intense physical activity might help decrease the prevalence of psoriasis. It also indicated that exercise may also benefit a person’s mental health linked to the diagnosis of psoriasis and the impact on quality of life.

Another 2018 study found that diet and exercise effectively combat oxidative stressors and improve disease severity in people with psoriasis.

Obesity is a common cardiovascular risk factor in psoriatic disease. People with psoriasis may have low physical activity levels, which puts them at risk of having a stroke.

Research suggests exercise can help reduce weight and improve the severity of psoriasis in people with overweight.

Impact on exercise

A 2020 study showed that people with psoriasis tend to avoid exercise because they are concerned about:

  • psoriasis severity
  • skin sensitivity
  • treatments
  • what clothes to wear
  • participating in social and leisure activities in public

A person should speak with their doctor or dermatologist to explore exercise options suitable for their skin needs.

Below are some tips to ensure a safe and effective workout.

Know what to avoid

As a general rule, avoid activities that cause flares or pain. Low impact, low intensity workouts, such as a stroll or a leisurely bike ride, might be more suitable.

Excessive sweating can trigger symptoms. People should avoid hot yoga and other exercises that cause excessive sweating. Inverse psoriasis is a form of psoriasis that occurs in areas where the skin folds, and sweat is a trigger that aggravates symptoms.

Some people experience stress as a result of having psoriasis, and, in turn, stress often aggravates this condition.

Doing too much exercise or performing cardio or higher intensity workouts may trigger the body’s stress response.

Higher-intensity workouts do not suit everyone, as excessive exercise can aggravate symptoms. However, people who manage their symptoms well may be able to tolerate more rigorous exercises, such as running and high intensity interval training (HIIT).

People with psoriatic arthritis, a potential complication of psoriasis, should avoid high impact exercises that put too much stress on weakened joints. Instead, they can opt for low impact activities, such as swimming and cycling.

Learn about the exercises for psoriatic arthritis here.

Choose proper clothing

Tight clothing can worsen skin sensitivity, irritate the skin, and aggravate psoriasis patches during workouts.

Loose, breathable clothing and moisture-wicking fabrics help pull moisture away and allow it to evaporate fast.

Learn more about the best clothing for workouts here.

Warm-up and cool down

Warming up before exercise is crucial to prepare the muscles and reduce stiffness to avoid injuries. In the same way, finish activities with a proper cool-down, like some light stretching or a slow-paced walk.

Read more about the benefits of stretching.

Stay consistent

Aim for consistency and frequency rather than duration. Physical activity may include taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to run errands.

If a person feels stiff or tense, they may switch their workouts and focus on a range of motion and flexibility exercises.

Learn more about stretching and flexibility here.

Hydrate

Working out may cause a person to sweat and lose skin moisture. A person should replenish lost fluids with proper hydration, which can help the skin stay moisturized and prevent flares in people with psoriasis.

Learn about the benefits of staying hydrated here.

Set up a home gym

If a person does not feel confident in a gym or a flare hinders their performance, they can exercise at home. There are plenty of workout videos online, including strength training, yoga, and core workouts.

Learn about the best home workouts here.

Speak with a healthcare professional

A person considering exercising for the first time could discuss options with a doctor or healthcare professional. They may be able to offer advice about what to avoid or recommend an assessment with a physical therapist.

Learn more about physical therapy here.

  • Keep a journal: A person can jot down every exercise or routine they do, note how they feel, and track which activities are causing the flares.
  • Start small: People can begin small and slowly increase the length and frequency of the exercise as tolerated. An individual concerned that exercising could trigger flares could start with simple exercises. This modification will help the body acclimatize and prevent a person’s stress or anxiety triggering symptoms.
  • Take rest days in between: A person who exercises inflammation-prone areas should rest to allow the body to recuperate and not overwork them.
    Learn why rest days are important.
  • Release tense muscles: Tense muscles can cause pain and increased inflammation. Using foam rollers and massages can help release the tension from these muscles.
    Learn what types of massages are effective.
  • Modify workouts: If part of the workout aggravates symptoms, be flexible and modify it to maintain the momentum. For example, a person can do a different exercise to target the same muscle if the current routine is causing pain or discomfort.
  • Switch workouts: A person doing high intensity exercises can switch to a lower-intensity workout. Likewise, a person doing cardio can shift to strength training, which can cause less bodily stress. Alternatively, a person can opt for stretching if this is more suitable.

Aside from exercise, other alternative treatments can help manage psoriasis.

  • Diet: Eating a balanced, nutritious diet is also a good option for maintaining a moderate weight. Try including foods with anti-inflammatory properties, such as most fruits and vegetables, and cutting down on sugar and fatty and processed foods.
    Find out what foods trigger psoriasis.
  • Exposure to sunlight: The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can slow down the rapid growth of skin cells. However, if the skin is exposed too soon for too long, sunburn can result, which could cause further injury to the skin. It is essential to wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
    Learn whether the sun is helpful for psoriasis.
  • Topical treatments: Over-the-counter and prescription topicals are the primary treatments. Doctors may prescribe products containing coal tar, steroids, vitamin D, and salicylic acid.
    Learn more about other lotions and creams for psoriasis.
  • Complementary therapies: Massages, acupuncture, and yoga may also help. Massages and acupuncture are known to relieve pain and muscle tightness, which can be helpful for people with psoriatic arthritis.
  • Natural remedies: Creams or ointments that contain aloe vera, capsaicin, and tea tree oil may help soothe itchiness and reduce scaling and redness of plaques
  • Phototherapy: Also known as light therapy, this treatment involves exposing the skin to UV light, which helps slow down skin production and reduce the pain, itchiness, and swelling in people with psoriasis.

Learn more about home remedies for psoriasis here.

Psoriasis is a lifelong condition. While it has no cure, treatments and lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet, can reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Psoriasis puts people at risk of other diseases that can affect their health and quality of life, including stroke, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases.

Many factors can hinder a person with psoriasis from exercising. However, not doing so can cause them to miss out on the health benefits that working out can offer.

Exercising improves a person’s physical and mental health and can also reduce flares and the risk of developing other health conditions associated with psoriasis.

At the same time, a person should be mindful about how they exercise, know what to avoid, and what to do when an exercise leads to a flare.