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

Bridging the Gap: Exercise for and Physical and Mental Health

GettyImages-1157981826A question I get asked frequently is, “Why are you interning for a fitness center when your major is social work?” The first thing people think of when they hear social work is working at the Department of Child Services, and being in a fitness center doesn’t seem to make sense. But social work is so much bigger than that, and it continues to expand into new places, such as fitness and sports.

Linking Physical and Mental Health

Exercise has many benefits for your physical health, but what about benefits to your mental health? In my own experience, I feel that exercising has an effect on my mood. The less I exercise throughout the week, the more sluggish and tired I become. However, the more I exercise throughout the week, the more energized and content I feel.

Now don’t get me wrong—I am not one of those people who loves to work out. I know that may come as a surprise, but I don’t look forward to working out. It’s something that I know I need to do in order to keep myself healthy, but I don’t particularly enjoy it. I literally count down the minutes until my workout is over. But as I said, I notice the difference in myself when I’m not working out vs. when I am working out. Exercising doesn’t have to look the same for everyone, either. Find something that you enjoy doing like hiking or swimming and incorporate that into what a “regular” workout might look like.

How It Works (Out)

Numerous studies back up the claims that exercising improves mental health. Aerobic exercises such as swimming, cycling, and jogging have been shown to reduce anxiety and depression. The improvements in mood are, in part, due to the exercise-induced blood circulation to the brain. Exercise can offer other benefits that help improve your mental health, such as the opportunity to get more social interaction. A smile, a greeting, or a small conversation can help improve your mood or even change the outlook of your entire day. You might even meet a gym buddy who will keep you accountable when you don’t feel like working out.

Working out can also help you gain more confidence overall. When you meet your exercise goals and start to see changes in your appearance, chances are your confidence will build as well. Exercise also gives you a healthy coping mechanism when you are feeling down. Have you been dwelling on something stressful? Take it out on a few medicine ball slams!

Find the Balance

Mental health and physical health are more intertwined than most people realize. Finding a balance between the two can help your overall well-being. It also helps justify why I am interning here at NIFS (lol).

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This blog was written by Taylor Hayes. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: wellness exercise as medicine emotional mental health

I Want a New Drug: Using Exercise as Medicine

ThinkstockPhotos-481324622.jpgWhat if I told you that I had a drug that could help cure the majority of your ailments, make your workday and life more productive, and help you sleep better? How much would you pay for this drug? But wait, there’s more! This drug can also

  • Increase blood flow to the brain, creating new blood vessels.
  • Help you withstand fatigue.
  • Decrease depression.
  • Improve memory.
  • Quicken learning time.
  • Increase bone density.
  • Help wounds heal faster.
  • Improve eye health.
  • Produce weight loss and fat cell shrinkage.
  • Slow the aging process.
  • Extend your life span by as many as 5 years.
  • Decrease the risk for heart disease, type-2 diabetes, COPD, CHF, and Alzheimer’s disease (that’s right, it’s currently the only known medicine to delay and even combat this disease).
  • Elicit feelings of joy and victory.

If I told you I had a drug that could do all that and more, would you consider it a wonder drug? I know I would! How much would you pay for that drug? Also, the most serious side effects of this drug are an increase in appetite and some muscle soreness from time to time. Now how much would you pay? What if I told you most forms of this drug are FREE? That’s right, EXERCISE is the drug I am referring to, but you figured that out already, didn’t you?

You may also be saying to yourself, that’s easy for a fitness professional to proclaim all those benefits of exercise, but it’s science, not my personal feelings about exercise. And if only the medical community and our society would listen to the science, Americans might not spend $3.35 trillion this year in health care, an all-time high! The U.S. spends more on health care than all other high-income nations, yet we are still the most unhealthy and diseased country. I’m not a scientist, but something doesn’t seem right about that equation.

But back to this drug that can do all the above and won’t even come close to touching that $3 trillion mark—EXERCISE! Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about exercise and its disease prevention impact.

The Science

In a 2016 special edition of TIME magazine, you can read about the science of exercise. It also tackles the idea of exercise as medicine, looking at the notion from several angles and different vantage points. Here is just a little of the science surrounding exercise and how it truly is a super drug.

  • In 2011 a team led by Mark Tarnopolsky studied genetically diseased mice that caused them to age prematurely. Half the mice were sedentary and the other half ran on a treadmill for 5 months. At the study’s end, the sedentary mice were barely hanging on, and the active mice were “nearly indistinguishable” from healthy mice, even though they were suffering from this genetic disease.
  • According to a 2006 University of Georgia review of 70 studies, it was found that regular exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue in adults of all ages with various health conditions and healthy ones as well—even those who suffered from ailments that cause fatigue, such as fibromyalgia.
  • Research shows that the less you move, the higher your risk for just about every health problem increases substantially.
  • Data from the National Weight Control Registry, which is an ongoing decades-long study, shows that people who lose a considerable amount of weight maintain the loss in part by exercising most days of the week.
  • A 1999 Duke University study found that adults suffering from depression who did 45 minutes of aerobic exercise three times per week improved their mood as much as individuals who took the antidepressant Zoloft instead of exercise.
  • In a three-month study, Martin Gibala tested how effective a 10-minute workout could be compared to the standard 50-minute session. The shorter workouts resulted in identical improvements in heart function and blood-sugar control.

The Prescription

The current guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommend getting 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 120 minutes a week of moderate–vigorous aerobic exercise, or a combination of both. The ACSM, myself included, also highly recommend strength and endurance training as a part of a balanced exercise program.

A lot of activities count as exercise that many don’t realize, and people feel that they have to have an extensive exercise program and fancy health club to exercise. But we really just need to move. Now don’t get me wrong, I strongly recommend seeking the counsel of a fitness professional to help get you on your way to a healthier lifestyle or to redefine your current fitness level and aspirations. But until then, the prescription to stay healthy is simply to increase your movement throughout the day.

If you are unable to dedicate 30 straight minutes a day, break it up into three 10-minute sessions. We should all be able to spare 10 minutes to be able throw away the bottle of pills. Don’t forget that lawn work constitutes exercise, and so does taking the stairs.

Here are a few more physical activities that can allow anyone to meet the standard recommendations for exercise and physical activity: Walking, household chores, dancing, golf, basketball, tennis, volleyball, hiking, jogging, running, shoveling snow, raking the lawn, carrying heavy loads, biking, cross-country skiing, swimming, soccer… the list goes on and on! There are so many options to get the recommended amount of exercise for health. Choose the one that you enjoy and go do it!

The Takeaways

Until recently, the healthcare system was inching toward a model of value-based care as opposed to volume-based care, and docs and hospitals were essentially going to be penalized for longer patient stays and reoccurring patient visits. On the surface, that makes a great deal of sense to me; if you are not helping a person get back to being healthy, you shouldn’t be rewarded for it. I’m also not naïve enough to think there are not a lot of “hands in the pot” when it comes to healthcare, and many have a say as to the logistics of the current health care system. But the ACSM, with the Exercise Is Medicine initiative, have their heels on the ground marching toward the value-based system that will hopefully create real change in the health of our nation. I’m sure you can agree that a change of this magnitude will take some time, but there are some things we can be doing in the meantime.

First and foremost, talk to your doctor about how exercise can help you with any current conditions or battle future ones. If your doctor is unable to give you the advice you need, remember, they are not fitness experts. Seek out the assistance of a fitness pro to help. More simply, get up and move, and take someone with you! We can all help create change.

Hippocrates wrote many years ago that “Eating alone will not keep a man well. He must also take exercise.” We knew then what we should be practicing now: exercise is the true medicine for the ailments that plague mankind these days. So instead of looking at the next prescription drug label, let’s take a walk and talk about how we can be truly healthy by using exercise as medicine.

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

Topics: fitness disease prevention exercise as medicine drugs weight control