How Exercise Helps Me Control Psoriatic Disease

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 09, 2020

By James Ross, as told to Hope Cristol

I didn’t have psoriasis until I was an adult. I moved to New York in the 1990s to work in the financial industry, and that’s when I noticed it on my knee. It was in one small spot then.

A dermatologist gave me lotions to try, but the psoriasis eventually grew and spread to the other knee, my elbows, my arms and legs -- but I wasn’t in a constant state of psoriasis flare-ups. Throughout my life, psoriasis has ebbed and flowed. Today I have some plaque psoriasis from my knees down to my ankles, and from my upper triceps to the middle of my forearm. There’s a little on my face, too.

This may sound like a lot, but healthy choices have gone a long way to ease my symptoms. Exercise -- swimming, in particular -- has been one constant in my evolving treatment strategies. Swimming, I find, helps me control my psoriasis and reduces stress.

Different Strategies for Different Life Stages

During those first years with psoriasis, I’d take my lunch break to go swim. I’d get to the office around 7 a.m. and leave around 9 a.m. to go swim. My boss wasn’t too happy about it, but I said, “Look, I’m here for 14 hours, you can give me an hour to go work out.”

That commitment to exercise afforded me some relief from psoriasis, but my life evolved. I got married and started a family. Then, in 2005, I became legally blind due to circumstances unrelated to psoriasis. Disability advocacy became a priority in my life. With much less free time to swim, I started to rethink my psoriasis treatment approach.

Now I’m back to a lifestyle approach to managing my psoriasis: Focusing on gut health and swimming more often. I may not be able to get to the pool as much as I’d like, but I do find a way to get there. Because I’m visually impaired, I can’t drive, so I’ll ask a co-worker to drive me to the pool, or I’ll take public transportation or Uber.

I usually bang out a half-mile or sometimes a mile in the pool when I’m really going for it, but distance isn’t the goal. If I said to myself, “I need to swim a mile a day or it's not worth it,” then I would fail. I don’t have that kind of time. But if I can say, “This week I’ll swim two, three, maybe four times, and I’ll just get in the water and do the best I can,” that’s a win.  

It’s not a panacea by any means. But I think of swimming as a plus in my corner that can help me tackle stressful realities that might affect my immune system -- which can make my psoriasis even worse.

Psoriasis in Perspective

Disability is a reality in my life, but it doesn’t define who I am. I think of psoriasis the same way. Managing psoriasis really does depend on how you want to look at it.

I can certainly make my life miserable by thinking about all the things I can’t do because I’m visually impaired. I can spend great amounts of time trying to find just the right treatment to get rid of my psoriasis symptoms. But for me, I don’t find that’s time well spent.

Life gives everyone challenges. The only issue up to you is how you want to deal with it. Do you want to be a victim? Or do you want to live your life, be the best you can be, do the best you can do?

There’s no question psoriasis is hard. But just like being visually impaired, it doesn’t have to change my ability to be a good husband, to be a good father, to be a good friend, to be a contributor to the public good, to be a good employee, or to have a good life.