Auto Immune Disease & Exercise

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auto immune disease & exercise

Auto immune diseases are those in which the body starts attacking its own cells. For the uninitiated the immune system is what protects the body’s cells from external attack; it’s like our army protecting our borders. Now imagine, that if the army which is supposed to defend us starts attacking our own citizens? Not a nice situation, right! Auto immune diseases manifest in various forms; common among them are Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Systematic erythematosus Lupus (SLE), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Type I Diabetes.

The exact causes of Auto immune diseases are not known. There have been several hypotheses regarding the causation of the same. It is seen is that the incidences of auto immune diseases are on the rise. Some scientists attribute it to our changing diet patterns-a diet high in processed, refined, fatty food; often referred to as the “Western Diet”. However it is yet to be conclusively proven.

Can exercise play a role in managing auto immune diseases? A study conducted by Sharif K, et al in Tel Aviv, has noted that exercise can have a positive impact on management of autoimmune diseases. The study states that “Physical activity leads to a significant elevation in T-regulatory cells, decreased immunoglobulin secretion and produces a shift in the Th1/Th2 balance to a decreased Th1 cell production”. Simply put, exercise helps in controlling and managing the autoimmune condition. Research clearly indicates that physical activity is safe in most of the auto immune conditions.

Studies also show that children suffering from juvenile rheumatic diseases including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, juvenile systematic lupus erythematosus and juvenile fibromyalgia benefit from exercise. It enhances the functional movement and quality of life.

 Exercises to improve aerobic capacity, strength, flexibility and motor coordination all help. A gradual easing into an exercise program is ideal. One can start with basic activities like Walking, swimming and cycling.  Stretching and flexibility training will help reduce joint stiffness and inflammation and allow for better movements. Resistance and weight training will strengthen the muscles and aerobic or cardiovascular activities will improve blood and oxygen circulation including strengthening the heart. Exercises which stimulate the neuromuscular coordination are great for people suffering from Multiple sclerosis.

Most autoimmune diseases are managed by steroids which can cause weight gain. This extra weight further aggravates the existing condition. Exercise will help keep the weight in control.

People who are suffering from autoimmune disorders are generally tired, fatigued and stressed out. For them even the thought of exercising may be intimidating. What is crucial is making the start; you will definitely see positive benefits. We all know exercise releases happy hormones and this is one situation where one requires all help possible to keep a positive outlook. I have quite a few clients who have benefited from the initiation of physical activity. The ones who are determined and do not allow minor setbacks to overwhelm them, are the ones who have reaped the maximum benefits from the exercise regimen. Whereas exercise cannot cure you of your condition in totality, it can surely improve your quality of life, make you more functional both physically and mentally. So do not shy away from exercise; if you have a friend or relative suffering from some form of auto immune disorder, encourage them to start an exercise program. It may be pertinent to point out that physical activity for the special conditions should be started after consultation with your doctor and under guidance of a qualified trainer.

The writer Angshuman Dutta is the CEO/Founder of Transformers Fitness Academy. You can follow him on facebook and on Instagram at

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