Lupus: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
The Influence of Lifestyle on Disease Activity
Lifestyle, including diet, physical activity, and stress levels, can have a potent effect on many different chronic diseases, including lupus. A healthy lifestyle is an important factor in preventing flares, reducing disease severity, and improving overall quality-of-life.
The level of stress an individual with lupus experiences can significantly affect disease. Whether this stress comes from work, finances, relationships, or from managing this chronic disease, it can trigger flares or worsen lupus severity. A recent study found that the people with lupus who had a greater ability to cope with stress reported a greater quality-of-life.59 Additional data suggest people who participate in a short stress-management program may have less pain.60
Ultra-violet (UV) light from the sun can cause or exacerbate the skin lesions often associated with lupus, and therefore avoiding or reducing exposure to the sun may be necessary for some people to avoid triggering these symptoms. One study found that photosensitivity was tightly linked with lupus disease, irrespective of the type of lupus, the level of serum autoantibodies, and use of anti-inflammatory medications.61 Fortunately, avoiding sun exposure or applying sunscreen is quite effective in preventing the damaging effects of UV light.62 Ironically, the need to avoid exposure to sunlight may exacerbate the widespread vitamin D deficiency in lupus patients.
Exercising regularly is important for everyone’s health, but is especially important for individuals with lupus. Exercise helps prevent inflamed joints from becoming excessively stiff and keeps muscles, bones, and cartilage strong.63 Physical activity has also been shown to improve physical fitness in individuals with lupus, but can also help improve feelings of depression and overall quality-of-life.64 Exercise can be daunting to those who are already feeling ill because of lupus, but remaining active is an important part of remaining as healthy as possible, even during flares. Those feeling too ill for more vigorous exercise can participate in gentle range-of-motion exercises so that muscles and joints can remain as flexible as possible.
One small pilot study with individuals with lupus confirmed that both aerobic exercise and the more gentle range-of-motion exercises are safe for people with lupus and did not worsen signs or symptoms.65