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.
Simple Tips for Trigger-Free Exercise
What can you do to make exercise work for you? First, do all you can to avoid trauma to your skin.
- To lessen friction, wear looser exercise clothing.
- Gently shower right after you finish. "Don't rub and scrub," says Menter. "That can aggravate the psoriasis."
- "Right before exercising, put lubricants in the areas that are likely to be irritated," says Menter. He suggests using a little bit of petroleum jelly in the groin and under the breasts. You can also sprinkle on sweat-absorbent powder.
- At the first sign of a friction- or exercise-related flare-up, use topical medication to bring it quickly under control, says Menter. Talk with your doctor about this.
For better weight control, combine aerobic exercise and weight lifting, says Yamauchi. "Start gently with something like walking or light jogging. Then gradually build up your endurance and strength." And don't forget that diet and exercise go hand-in-hand to achieve better control of inflammation and weight. "There's no magic diet, but a heart-healthy, well-balanced diet that's low in processed and fatty foods is a good place to start," says Yamauchi.
If you have psoriatic arthritis, get inflammation under control before starting a new exercise program. Otherwise, pain and inflammation can make it harder to exercise, says Yamauchi. As a rule, though, the pain of psoriatic arthritis tends to get better with exercise, adds Menter.