Psoriasis and Exercise: The Game Changer

From the WebMD Archives

Want to pick up the pace of your psoriasis management? You may have heard that exercise can help. But maybe you're concerned you'll trigger a flare-up. Or perhaps you’re uncomfortable exercising in public. Here, two psoriasis experts explain why exercise is your friend in your quest to improve your psoriasis.

How Exercise Benefits People With Psoriasis

"We think exercise can play a major role in the treatment of psoriasis," says Alan Menter, MD, chairman of the division of dermatology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

How? Exercise helps you control your weight, which is important to people with psoriasis. "People with psoriasis are on average 7% heavier than those without the disease," Menter tells WebMD.

How the two are related is not clear. But one likely link is inflammation. Obesity can lead to chronic inflammation, which may worsen your psoriasis. Also, the body tends to make more fat cells in response to increased inflammation, making it even harder to control weight, says Paul S. Yamauchi, MD, PhD, spokesman for the National Psoriasis Foundation and medical director of the Dermatology Institute and Skin Care Center of Santa Monica, Calif.

Exercise offers other health benefits as well, says Yamauchi. By helping you manage your weight, regular exercise may also decrease cardiac risks. Those heart risks are higher in people with psoriasis. It may also make psoriasis medication work better. Treatment tends to not work as well in overweight people.

Exercise Challenges for People With Psoriasis

Even though you know the benefits of exercise, you might be loath to bare your arms and legs at the gym or public pool. Chances are, bathing suits, tank tops, and gym shorts are really not your thing.

To avoid the stares of strangers, many people with psoriasis tend to withdraw and move less, says Menter. Combine isolation and sedentary behavior with overeating and overdrinking, and you have another recipe for weight gain.

Exercise can pose other challenges for those with psoriasis.

  • For example, a sports injury that damages skin might trigger psoriasis, says Menter. This is called the Koebner response.
  • Sweat and friction in areas such as groin, breast, or abdominal folds can also worsen psoriasis, he says. "It thrives in areas of friction," he says. "Anything that abrades sensitive skin will trigger psoriasis within a few weeks."
  • Exercising too much can also cause joint pain in those with psoriatic arthritis, a type of inflammatory arthritis that develops in about one in four with psoriasis.