Psoriasis can give you plenty of reasons not to exercise.
Visible plaques, scales, and flaking can be uncomfortable and make you self-conscious. If you’re feeling down during a flare, it can be hard to motivate yourself to work out.
But there are also plenty of reasons to make exercise a priority. Controlling your weight is at the top of the list -- it can cut back on flares and may help your treatment work better.
“When you decrease weight, you decrease inflammation and help your psoriasis,” says Jerry Bagel, MD, director of the Psoriasis Treatment Center of Central New Jersey.
Whether you scale mountains or take laps around the block, exercise also makes you less likely to have other health issues linked with psoriasis, including diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and liver, kidney, and heart problems.
Think of exercise as a form of treatment just as important as medication.
“I find that when my patients get clearer, they’re more motivated to exercise,” Bagel says. “And they’re happier.”
To Gym or Not?
When you have a flare-up, a gym can be a tough place, especially if you can’t or don’t want to cover your plaques with clothing.
Jaime Lyn Moy, 42, an art director in the Detroit area, puts her condition out there so no one wonders what’s going on.
“When I work out in a gym or with a trainer, I try to be up front with the staff and let them know I have psoriasis and it isn’t contagious,” she says. “I’ve found that most people feel much more at ease and willing to engage with me when they know what my plaques are and that they aren’t contagious.”
If the gym isn’t your style, there are plenty of other ways to get a good workout on your own. Take a walk, jog, or ride a bike in your neighborhood. Jump rope, do push-ups, or dance in the comfort of your living room. Try videos or apps on your smartphone, computer, or TV that can guide you through many ways to work up a sweat.
“When I exercise, it helps me feel like I can take on whatever the day throws at me,” says Houston-based blogger Sabrina Skiles, 33, who’s had psoriasis since she was a junior in high school. She does a 15-minute digital workout at home. “On the days I feel run down and just can’t make my workout, I notice a difference.”
Try Different Ways to Move
Experiment with different forms of exercise. It may take a while to find balance between conditioning and your condition.
“I think cardiovascular -- treadmills, bikes, stair steppers, and ellipticals -- are best,” Bagel says. “They’re great for weight loss and not traumatic to your body.”
Trauma, like bruises, burns, scrapes, or any sort of injury, can trigger psoriasis to flare up in that area. It’s called Koebnerization or the Koebner phenomenon.
“So rubbing against a wall, or sit-ups with your back against the floor, wouldn’t be such a great idea,” Bagel says. “On the other hand, free weights would be OK because you’re not rubbing against anything.”
Keep in mind that your condition may mean some types of physical activity just won’t work for you. Moy had to give up bike riding when she kept getting flares where the seat touched her body.
“Flares in that area are too bothersome to deal with,” she says. “For me, it’s just not worth it.”
Instead, she’s turned to kickboxing. When bruises or scrapes happen, she’s figured out a way to handle them -- wash open areas quickly afterward with soap and water to prevent infection. Then she covers them in coconut oil.
When it comes to workout clothes, try lightweight fabrics that let your skin breathe, like viscose and cotton.
When Moy swims, she wears a full wetsuit for two reasons: It covers her plaques and protects her from chlorine.
“Sure, you’ll still feel some stinging, but I find it isn’t as bad as uncovered skin,” she says.
You can work more physical activity into your day with little effort. It can be as simple as getting up for a 10-minute walk every few hours. Most importantly, work up to a healthy pace.
“If you’re out of shape, don’t go to the gym thinking you’re going to knock off an hour of cardio the first time,” Bagel says. “Start slow. Get your heart rate up. Get comfortable. Start with 10 minutes a day the first week. Bump it up to 15 the next week. At about 30 minutes, that’s all you need 3 to 4 times a week. But if you can do more, go for it.”