NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Tips for Exercising with Autoimmune Disease

GettyImages-852401728Autoimmune diseases are a family of more than 80 chronic illnesses. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 23.5 million Americans, or more than 7 percent of the population, suffer from an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disorders arise when the body’s immune system, which is meant to protect you from disease and infection, mistakenly attacks healthy cells as if they were invading a virus or bacteria. Autoimmune diseases include arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, Graves’ disease, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, and multiple sclerosis. Some other illnesses that commonly affect women such as Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (although not classified as autoimmune diseases) have similar symptoms including fatigue and chronic pain. Common symptoms of autoimmune diseases include chronic joint or muscle pain, extreme fatigue, difficulty sleeping, weakness, nausea, headache, and depression.

Staying Active Is Important

Many people with an autoimmune disease go through periods of being symptom-free, and then have sudden onset of severe symptoms called flares. It’s understandable that when you’re not feeling well, you may avoid exercise because it’s difficult to find the motivation and energy to be active. For many people with autoimmune disorders, however, moderate low-impact exercise and physical activity can be of tremendous benefit to their quality of life. Keeping active is especially important when you have an autoimmune disease for several reasons: exercise boosts physical energy; endorphin production is a natural painkiller; exercise can help reduce inflammation throughout the body; and exercise also helps combat the depression and anxiety that also often accompany this type of illness.

Exercise Tips for People with Autoimmune Disease

Here are some tips for exercising when you have an autoimmune illness:

  1. Go at your own pace and figure out what works for you. Not everyone’s experience of autoimmune disease symptoms is the same. Start slowly with your workouts and work your way up to more challenging ones. Some days will be harder than others—adjust your workout accordingly. If you miss a day because of a flare, don’t beat yourself up about it, just make sure you get back to the gym as soon as you can.
  2. Have good support systems. Talk to your health care providers about your plans to exercise and ask for their input. Make an appointment at your gym to have a fitness assessment with a personal trainer. You may also find it fun and motivating to have a fitness buddy other than your trainer, someone you can attend group classes with, or even just meet a designated time to hit the cardio machines or do weights together.
  3. Keep a journal of your daily activities, including when you exercise, the activities you did, and what you ate. If you find yourself overly exerted, you will probably see patterns start to emerge when you have the most or least amount of energy. Take these into consideration and adjust your routine to fit you best.
  4. Give your body the fuel it needs to succeed. You may even want to consider an anti-inflammatory diet. Many autoimmune disorders create inflammation in the body, which leads to muscle and joint pain, as well as fatigue. You can consult with a nutritionist to see whether there are diet changes you can make to help you be successful.
  5. Rest! Your body may have a hard time adjusting to the workload you are putting it through. Allow yourself to get adequate rest. Remember, this is a lifelong condition that requires lifelong attention.

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This blog was written by Emily Lesich, NIFS Health Fitness Specialist. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: staying active low-impact exercise as medicine quality of life chronic disease autoimmune disease

The Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease: COPD

GettyImages-1140574879In my last blog, Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease, I discussed how exercise may help individuals with a major chronic disease. In this blog, I discuss COPD and how exercise can improve symptoms and quality of life for those affected. COPD is an acronym for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is an umbrella term defined by the CDC as, “a group of diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems.” This is in contrast to some other pulmonary disorders that restrict lung expansion.

COPD is a global disease, but due to underreporting it is often overlooked. In developed countries it is often associated with smoking; however, its prevalence in many developing countries can be linked to outdoor, occupational, and indoor air pollution. Common symptoms include

  • Shortness of breath at rest or with mild exertion
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Excess sputum production

Diagnosis and Treatment

Unlike many other health conditions, COPD is not diagnosed by a single test. Physicians often use a combination of medical history, imaging, and special breathing tests called pulmonary function tests to determine a diagnosis. Lower pulmonary function test scores indicate increased severity of COPD. Home treatment often includes medications such as bronchodilators, mucolytics, or supplemental oxygen. If you have COPD and plan on exercising, I recommend gathering your treatment information for your trainer so that they can determine any contraindications to exercise.

Counteracting the Downward Spiral

Because physical activity makes them short of breath, many individuals with COPD abstain from exercise. This sedentary behavior leads to increased health risks. Their heart becomes weaker, blood vessels are less flexible and more likely to rupture, and muscles atrophy from the lack of use. These physiological changes make it harder to perform physical activity and accelerate the downward spiral many people with this condition face. Because it is an irreversible disease, COPD cannot be cured with exercise. However, exercise can drastically improve the quality of life people experience.

How Exercise Helps People with COPD

The 2019 Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) Report states that exercise training can increase physical activity levels outside of the gym in COPD patients. It recommends that they participate in multiple brief bouts of high-intensity work. By doing so, these individuals can stress their cardiovascular system without putting it over the edge. Over time individuals with COPD experience similar cardiorespiratory adaptations to healthy populations, including

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased resting heart rate
  • Increased blood flow to peripheral tissues
  • Improved heart function

Resistance training also enables this population to complete activities of daily living more readily by increasing strength and muscular endurance. However, research shows that strength training does not improve their health status. A specific type of resistance training called inspiratory muscle training has been shown to increase the strength of inspiratory muscles, allowing individuals to take deeper breaths. Flexibility training is also believed to improve posture to allow for easier breathing, but no studies have specifically looked at this area.

NIFS Can Help

If you or somebody you know has COPD but doesn’t know where to start, speak with your physician about starting an exercise program. If cleared, come to NIFS, where we have trainers who are educated and certified to work with special populations. The Healthy Lifestyle Program is specifically designed to work with populations who need adaptations to exercise. If you are interested in joining the Healthy Lifestyle Program, stop on by and ask us what we can do for you!

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This blog was written by Brandon Wind, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise NIFS programs resistance flexibility cardiopulmonary chronic disease COPD

The Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease

GettyImages-638623172Has a physician or other healthcare provider recently told you to improve your diet and exercise? If you are like most Americans, there is also a pretty good chance that you have a stressful lifestyle that leaves you short on the time, money, and energy it takes to implement these changes. Besides, other than a few extra pounds, you haven’t really noticed any changes to your body, right?

I’m here to tell you that your body is changing, and the quicker you make a change, the better.

Are You at Risk for Chronic Disease?

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on deaths and mortality. The 15 leading causes of death included several chronic diseases that are defined by the CDC as, “Conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both.” Those on the list included the following:

  • Heart disease (1st)
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases (4th)
  • Stroke (5th)
  • Diabetes mellitus (7th)
  • Kidney disease (9th)
  • Liver disease (11th)
  • hypertension (13th)

Combined, these diseases accounted for 41.5% of deaths in 2017. When other chronic and mental health conditions are added in, they account for a staggering 90 percent of annual health care costs. The one thing these conditions have in common? They can all be treated with proper nutrition and physical activity.

Individuals who participate in key risk behaviors like tobacco use, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity or more likely to develop these diseases. In some cases, we have no control over whether we develop these diseases, but we can mitigate the risk by eating healthier and participating in more physical activity.

How to Make the Change Toward Healthy Living

If you are interested in making a change, first get screened by a licensed healthcare professional to discuss your current lifestyle as well as your personal and family medical history. It is important that you speak with a doctor prior to engaging in any exercise program. In addition, I recommend consulting with a Registered Dietitian (RD) to discuss your personal dietary needs.

Finally, join me through this monthly blog mini-series, The Impact of Exercise on Chronic Disease, as I detail how exercise improves the quality of life for individuals with a major chronic disease.

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This blog was written by Brandon Wind, ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and Healthy Lifestyle Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: exercise diabetes disease prevention heart disease hypertension dietitian healthy living cardiorespiratory chronic disease stroke