Stick to it: The benefits of exercise

Lupus Foundation of America

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Exercise reduces fatigue, keeps you moving, and boosts your mood. Those are three great reasons to start—and stick to—an exercise program, says Terry Wahls, MD, clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa.

“Exercise enhances your sense of well-being, and it delays or prevents disability and loss of independence,” says Wahls.

Whatever your level of fitness, exercise helps. But don’t go it alone. Talk to your physician about your plans. Then, talk to a physical therapist (PT) or occupational therapist (OT), who will evaluate your flexibility, strength, balance, and overall function and tailor an exercise program that’s right for you. Therapists can also recommend equipment, such as resistance bands and proper footwear. “Input from a PT or OT is incredibly valuable,” says Wahls.

Your starting routine should include stretching and 4-to-8 different exercises that you can rotate through. “You want a nice, well balanced program that works your upper, lower and core muscles,” says Wahls.

Most exercises can be modified as needed, with help from your therapist. Take push-ups, for example. Do them against a wall to start, and move to the floor as you get stronger.

Wahls says you’ll feel the benefits of your exercise routine in about two months, as long as you make exercise a daily habit.

“There should never be a day when you’re not doing some part of your movement therapy, even if it’s lighter exercise like stretching,” says Wahls.

Magdalena Sokolowska, an office manager who lives in New York City, was diagnosed with lupus 10 years ago. She started to exercise a few years later, and it has changed her life. Although not everyone with lupus can take on as much as this, Sokolowska goes to a gym, works out at home, and likes Pilates and yoga classes, which Wahls also recommends, along with tai chi.

To stick with it, she sets goals, like the 5K or 10K race she plans to run in 2015. She also rewards herself occasionally with new workout gear—a hat, a headband, or a pair of capris.

“I want to wear it, to try it out,” she says. “That motivates me.”

But her real motivation is how she feels. “The more exercise I do, the more I want to do, and the better I feel,” says Sokolowska, 35.  

Tips for maintaining your motivation to exercise

Starting an exercise program is a great first step. Sticking with it, however, can be difficult. Maintain your motivation with these tips from Terry Wahls, MD, clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa:

  • Declare what inspires you to exercise, such as playing with your children or staying independent. Remind yourself when you lack the urge.
  • Set small, achievable goals. The more goals you meet, the more you’ll want to push yourself.
  • Keep a journal to mark your progress. Your history of success will encourage you to stay the course.