Ohio : WPA Art Program, 1940 found here.
Once again, Dr. Sarah Schafer has shared with us her unique perspective as both patient and physician dealing with Sjogren's syndrome. In this article, she addresses the benefits of appropriate exercise on symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome. It's a great reminder to get moving!
There is much evidence to support that exercise is beneficial in Sjogren’s, some of it indirect (RA studies), inflammation studies, etc. One study with Sjogren’s patients showed benefit, but there is only one so far that I know about. I can tell you first hand that it helps me immensely.
The problem with exercise is many of us have flu-like malaise, fatigue and all sorts of pain. It seems counterintuitive to add to the feeling that you are stressing your body. Exercise when you have the flu is a bad idea. But with Sjogren’s, despite the fatigue, it is a good idea, if you don’t overdo.
Exercise needs to be customized to your needs, and graded (start small, trial and error). I have learned to calibrate what I can do and how long I can go based on an internal sense of energy. I swim every day, and it does wonders. I don’t function well in the evenings without my afternoon rest followed by my swim. It has to be in water that is not too hot, and I actually need to push hard enough to get my heart rate up. Swimming works far better for me than walking or other exercise, but I do walk some mornings to get some weight bearing in.
A fairly recent study has shown that > 50 % of primary Sjogren’s have abnormal heart rate/ bp responses to being upright. This adds to fatigue. Exercise helps this problem. This is due to abnormal autonomic nervous system function.
In extreme forms, this autonomic nervous system dysfunction becomes POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome). Less extreme forms are noticing fatigue when upright , “shopping intolerance”. I do have POTS. It became quite severe starting 6 years ago, staying severe for several years. It turns out that interval workouts (don’t try this on your own without consulting your provider! ) make a huge difference in controlling POTS symptoms.
I started interval training based on studies a few years ago by a cardiologist in Texas, who figured out it was a good therapy to re-set the BP receptors and heart rate. POTS is actually neurologic problem, not a heart problem, but sometimes cardiologists take an interest. Others know nothing about it. BTW, the study author kindly communicated to me by email when I had questions about how to go about this with Sjogren’s and POTs.
I still have POTs, but greatly reduced symptoms. This helps me be much more functional, and get through the grocery shopping!
It took more than 2 months to build up with my interval training to the point where the exercise started to have a positive benefit with fatigue and POTS symptoms. Prior to this I was exercising for pain control, but not as vigorously. I was so dizzy from POTS when upright, that during those first months of interval training, swimming was my only option to start pushing harder for a few laps here and there. Now I push hard for nearly half of my laps.
Swimming is perfect for POTS- it is exercise lying down. The recumbent bike also works for many who cannot tolerate upright exercise. It bothers my back a bit. Note that I exercise 25-35 minutes at the most. Sometimes only 15 minutes when feeling especially lousy. Before Sjogren’s , I would go much longer.
Other benefits to exercise are so numerous, such as:
Decreases inflammation in the whole body
Cardiovascular risk reduction (we are at increased risk heart disease due to systemic inflammation)
# 1 priority for Alzheimer’s prevention (aerobic exercise)—more protective than those unproven brain games.
Bone density benefits
Mental clarity improvement (great for brain fog)
And so on…..
I can tell you it is sometimes not easy to get up and “Just do it”. But I have a habit, and give it no more thought than brushing my teeth. I almost always feel better once I get going. The more strenuous interval training was very hard to start, but the benefits were great.
I am lucky to live in CA, where I can swim outdoors year round, rain or shine. Indoor pools are usually too darn warm, which is bad for POTS. In case you think I am not that sick, I would say
I am on the severe end of the fatigue spectrum for Sjogren’s. I use methotrexate, plaquenil and now Rituxian. I am unable to work due to physical fatigue, pain and frequent migraines. I need to rest every afternoon because I just “tank” after, but my “up times” are much more functional and higher quality.
Any more exercise testimonials???
P.S. NOTE; Qigong, Tai Chi and Yoga beneficial for the body and brain, but in a different way… Although be careful, I injured myself years ago with Yoga due to joint hypermobility. Now I do a lovely Qigong practice in the mornings.