Exercise for Sjogren’s Syndrome (and other chronic diseases)

Doctors love exercise. Few people make it through an annual physical without at least a short discussion of healthy physical activities. And for good reason; study after study has shown the many health benefits of exercise. There are even two active clinical trials (here and here) underway to measure positive effects of exercise specifically for SS patients.

However, for patients with chronic health conditions like SS, arthritis, CFS/ME/SEID and fibromyalgia, regular physical activity can be a bit more challenging. The benefits are still there (even for fibromyalgia and SEID), but the rules certainly change. Physical limitations such as fatigue and joint and muscle pain can inhibit our ability to hit the gym for 2 hours of heavy cardio and strength training. Perhaps more damaging is the mental burden that comes with even mild depression about your physical health. As a previously active person, I find that there are few things more depressing that watching a group of friends enjoying a physical sport that I used to play with them.

That being said, exercise is important for those of us with SS, though we face significant challenges. Fatigue is the main culprit, but I have found that, even when I feel tired, if I push myself to bike or walk, I usually return home feeling better than I did when I left. This really hit home for me this month, as I participated in the National Bike Challenge. The month is not over, but I am on track to bike every day in May. Sure, some days were only a mile or two, but even when I felt tired I managed to get out and ride. On my good days, I was able to bike some of the 12 mile courses that I use to consider fairly mild. Best of all, I have felt better, health-wise, than usual, and I attribute at least part of it to biking.

I am fortunate to not suffer from the extreme fatigue that plagues many SS patients, but I still encourage my readers to do their best to get into a regular exercise routine. If you suffer from more problematic fatigue or joint pain, consider milder exercises. Aqua aerobics are easier on joints, and tai chi and yoga can be scaled for those suffering from fatigue.

It can a serious challenge to overcome the mental and physical hurdles that inhibit a regular exercise routine. However, by starting small and working to our limits, almost anyone can manage to insert a little bit of regular activity into your day. And for most of us with chronic illnesses, we will feel better for it.

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