Physical exercise may help relieve symptoms of lupus. It is best for a person with lupus to speak with their doctor about creating a suitable workout plan.

Lupus is an autoimmune condition. This means it occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.

The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that around 1.5 million people in the United States have some type of lupus. It also notes that exercise may help relieve some of the symptoms.

This article discusses what kinds of exercise may benefit a person with lupus and how it can help reduce symptoms of the condition. It also explores when someone may need to speak with their doctor about exercising with lupus.

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The Lupus Foundation of America recommends people with lupus speak with their doctor about tailoring an exercise plan that may include stretching and 4–8 exercises to rotate through.

It also recommends a person include exercises involving their upper, lower, and core muscles.

Low impact exercises

Low impact exercises may be beneficial for a person who has lupus. These may be gentle on a person’s joints and muscles, which may be painful due to lupus.

These exercises also have a low risk of injury and may be safer for people with certain lupus symptoms, such as numbness in the feet and hands or balance problems.

Types of low impact exercise include:

The Lupus Foundation of America also recommends the following exercises:

  • Squats: To perform a squat, a person stands with their feet hip-width apart and arms extended forward at shoulder height. They then bend their legs into a squatting position before straightening up again into their starting position.
  • Alternating lunge: A person starts with their feet together and hands on their hips. They then take a big step forward with one foot and bend their knees. After returning to their starting position, they repeat the exercise with the other leg.
  • Incline push-up: A person takes a step back from a countertop and grasps its edge with their hands shoulder-width apart. Bending their elbows, they bring their chest toward the counter. They then straighten their arms and return to the starting position.
  • Reverse crunch: This exercise requires a person to lie on their back on a yoga mat or comfortable surface. They bend their knees and keep their feet on the floor. Their arms should be at their sides. They then bring their knees toward their chest while lifting their hips slightly before returning to the starting position.
  • Bridge: A person begins in the same position as the reverse crunch. They then keep their feet and arms on the floor while raising their pelvis. After holding the position for 5 seconds, they return to the starting position.

Experts recommend performing these exercises twice a week, with 8–12 repetitions each. Once a person has completed all exercises, they may repeat the program once or twice.

Exercises such as yoga, tai chi, and Pilates may help people gently improve their fitness. They may benefit a person with lupus by:

  • promoting flexibility
  • reducing stress
  • promoting endurance

Exercises to limit

The Lupus Foundation of America recommends people with lupus limit high impact exercises that place strain and pressure on the joints, such as:

  • jogging
  • weightlifting
  • high impact aerobic activities

A person who has lupus will need to be mindful of their condition when exercising. It is important that they not overexert themselves and take breaks as required.

Exercise may benefit people with lupus in various ways. Research from 2020 found that people with lupus who performed hand and arm strengthening exercises over about 6 months experienced reduced pain and improvements in:

  • hand function
  • daily activity performance
  • quality of life

Additionally, the Lupus Foundation of America discusses the following potential benefits of exercise for a person with lupus:

  • improving muscle strength, which may help prevent joint weakening and damage
  • reduced fatigue
  • less joint pain
  • improved mobility
  • a boost in energy

A study from 2019 that included 40 female participants with systemic lupus erythematosus found that after 3 months of aerobic exercises, which involved stretching and strengthening, the study participants experienced a reduction in the severity of fatigue and depression.

One group of participants did a 5–10 minute warm-up, 20–30 minutes of aerobic exercise to 70-80% of their maximum heart rate, and a 5–10 minute cool-down. The other group did range of motion and muscle strengthening exercises 3 times per week in 50-minute sessions.

It is best for a person with lupus to speak with their doctor about putting together an exercise plan. Doctors can recommend exercises suitable for a person’s abilities and requirements.

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases notes that people with lupus will likely need to visit their doctor frequently. Having regular checkups allows a doctor to monitor their symptoms.

Frequent checkups also allow a doctor to monitor exercise’s impact on a person with lupus. If they experience any pain when exercising, the doctor may be able to recommend alternative exercises.

Physical exercise may have many benefits for a person with lupus, including stress reduction, pain relief, and increased mobility. People can speak with their doctor about creating an exercise plan that suits them.

Experts recommend low impact exercises, such as yoga or swimming, for people with lupus.

It is important that a person not overexert themselves during exercise and take breaks as required. If exercise is painful, their doctor may be able to recommend modifications to a plan.