Exercising with psoriasis: expert advice
Andrea Wool is a certified personal trainer and nutrition therapy practitioner. After traditional gym training led her to experience alternate cycles of well-being and overwhelming fatigue, she designed a personal fitness program to support her own healing.
Andrea was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia and multiple autoimmune diseases. She started Autoimmune Strong to help people with autoimmune diseases like psoriasis create individualized fitness programs.
Andrea works one-on-one with people to find an exercise routine that delivers the benefits of movement without exacerbating autoimmune flare-ups.
She spoke to Healthline about how people with psoriasis can thrive and stick to a fitness program and touched on the common fears many have.
This interview has been edited for brevity, length and clarity.
As people living with an autoimmune disease like psoriasis, our bodies do not function the same as others. We are stressed because our immune system breaks down slightly.
A lot of the fitness advice we get is, âPush really hard – no pain, no gain. For people with autoimmune disease, exercise can be stressful. There is a balance – a tightrope on which we have to walk.
Exercise can actually decrease psoriasis. But if you train too hard, you can overdo it. Psoriasis is
Ultimately, you have to find the âgolden loop principleâ. You need this sweet spot not too much, but not too little. Just to the right.
We have a level of tolerance that our body can handle. If you exercise too much, you can enter a zone of intolerance. That’s when people say, âI can’t exercise. Exercise is not for me.
But exercise doesn’t have to look a certain way to be effective. There are many ways to think about exercise.
If you have psoriasis, you absolutely can do high-intensity exercise, as long as your body can tolerate it. You have to listen to your body. If you suffer from psoriasis symptoms when you exercise at high intensity, then this high intensity exercise is probably more than your body can tolerate.
There is a difference between cardio and strength training. The strength work can be high intensity, but cardio work relies on cortisol production, which means your adrenaline skyrockets. This high adrenaline rush can be very stressful and lead you to this level of intolerance very quickly.
Strength work doesn’t turn that switch into intolerance so easily. You can also exercise your strength at a lower intensity and build it over time.
If someone is suffering from a psoriasis flare, I recommend switching from high intensity exercise to low intensity exercise and also from cardio to strength training. Often times, people need strength training to build a foundation of properly developed muscles. Then they can add cardio once the muscles are more able to handle that tension.
First of all, start keeping a journal. This increases your awareness of how your exercise can affect your pushes.
The next part is to cut back on exercise and then replace it. When you cut back, you cut back on exercise, so prioritize rest.
During this recovery period, I recommend working on the release of tension and strength training. You can have tight overactive muscles and tight underlying muscles, and they can come together to create:
- imbalances in posture
If you reduce the strain on those tight overactive muscles, it can provide relief. Things that can be really helpful include:
- roll the foam
- therapeutic massage
Many people stop there once they get the relief they need. But tight muscles often come back if you haven’t made them stronger. So, at the same time, you need to relax overactive muscles and strengthen underactive muscles.
Building strength and rebalancing posture are important parts of recovery. It really is about finding your place Goldilocks. Take these steps little by little, and as your body recovers, you can do more.
It is quite normal and common for people to be afraid of exercising. Our feeling of fear looks like a flashing red warning: It didn’t go well last time, so it won’t go well this time.
The best way to deal with this sensation is to recognize that it is happening and start by exercising in small chunks. You’ll start to show your body that it’s not that scary after all.
The first exercise I teach is the abdominal splint. It is a basic exercise. You can literally do it anywhere. It trains the deep muscles of the trunk. Then you add some exercise on top of it. Eventually you come to a place where you can do a lot of things.
I would ask that person to look within and ask where the drive is coming from. It is usually one of two places.
First of all, many of us have learned that exercise is weight management. If that’s the motivation, despite having psoriasis triggered, that might not be what’s healthy for you.
I encourage focusing on improving psoriasis and then focusing on weight loss.
Second, some people enjoy the adrenaline rush caused by exercise. I am a former marathoner. I loved seeing how far I could push myself and how fast I could run. I really had to come to terms with the fact that it didn’t serve me.
Whatever the reasoning, at the end of the day, my recommendation is to see if you can cut back. I know it can be very scary, but it can be worth seeing what happens.
Absolutely, but it can be a bit tricky. You may have rough spots on your skin that are tender to the touch. Foam rolling may require you to apply pressure to these areas.
You can start by rolling foam on areas of the body that are not affected by psoriasis.
Another option is to reduce the pressure you put on the areas with psoriasis. You can use the foam rolling tools in a number of ways to put light pressure on these points at first.
A third method is to use a compression sleeve or sock and apply lots of moisturizer underneath. This way the skin becomes hydrated a lot and the foam roller is not directly on the skin with psoriasis.
Consider exercising outside of the traditional boundaries of âno pain, no gainâ thinking. Instead, do small exercises throughout the day to help your body regain its balance. Think about exercise for restorative purposes.
Start small and know that this process takes time. As long as you keep going and focus on these health benefits, it will serve you better in the long run.
If you’re struggling to exercise, know that you don’t have to do it alone. There are millions of people struggling with these same issues. There is a community that can understand and support you.