When the body’s immune system begins to attack normal cells in your body, it’s called an auto-immune disease. Examples include arthritis, multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s Disease, lupus, Graves’ disease, and Sjögren’s syndrome. Other illnesses are closely related, such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fibromyalgia.

Exercise is recommended for everyone, even those suffering from an auto-immune disease. However, you must exercise care to avoid exercise-induced flare-ups and other negative side effects.

Five Things to Keep in Mind When Exercising With an Auto-immune Disease

1. Figure out what works best for you. You are not in competition with anyone and you know best how you’re feeling from day to day.

2. Work out slowly and gently. Even if you’re feeling great, over-exercising can backfire on you. Increase your exercise gradually, over time, and be willing to take a few steps back if you begin to experience negative symptoms.

3. Seek out a support system. See if there are other people in your community that also have auto-immune diseases that you could exercise with. Sometimes just having a friend to walk with makes the exercise so much easier. There are also online support groups for those with auto-immune diseases where you can discuss your fitness journey.

4. Journal your precise mood, physical symptoms daily so that you can uncover any positive or negative trends to address. Keep doing what works for you, and be OK with letting things go if they don’t work for you. Not everyone has to become a runner or a weightlifter, swimmer, or basketball player. Again, it’s about finding what works for you.

5. Low-impact activities are preferable, especially if you have a musculoskeletal disorder. Swimming is a low impact activity, walking is a bit more strenuous, and running is a high-impact activity. Again, start slow and gently and work your way up to more intense activity if your health allows it.

What is Exercise Intolerance?

Exercise intolerance can occur if exercise is engaged in too vigorously for an extended period. This can lead to a flare-up of systems that do not go away for a lengthy period. This is why keeping a journal of what is going on with your body is so important. By doing so, you will be able to “ease up” on your activity level before a flare-up presents itself.

Talk to Your Doctor

The bottom line is, before embarking on any kind of exercise program, discuss it with your doctor. They are familiar with your health conditions and often have recommendations for exercises that are compatible with your current conditions and fitness level.

Having an auto-immune disease doesn’t mean you have to turn into a couch potato. Following the suggestions above and having a conversation with your doctor can provide you with a useful fitness routine.