How Exercise Improves Psoriasis

The symptom-soothing benefits of working out

You would love to exercise more, but it can be hard to get up and moving when you’re struggling with psoriasis. Need incentive? Consider this: Not only can exercising regularly help you feel better, it may help minimize your symptoms and lower your risks for other health problems associated with the condition. Here, John E. Wolf, Jr., M.D., professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, explains why exercise is especially important for people with psoriasis and offers guidelines on how to do it safely.

Q: What are some ways that regular activity can benefit someone with psoriasis?

A: Exercise offers many benefits to people who have psoriasis. The first is stress reduction. Stress is a major flare factor for psoriasis, and exercise is a proven way to counter it, especially if you do something that you really enjoy. Any activity has the potential to help reduce stress, but one that emphasizes the mind/body connection, such as yoga or tai chi, may be especially effective. Regular workouts can also help with weight control. Doctors have recognized for years that overweight or obese psoriatic patients are harder to treat than those who are a healthy weight. They simply don’t respond to treatment as well. Exercise is also important for keeping your heart healthy—yet another potential boon for people with psoriasis. New research shows that psoriatic patients are at increased risk for obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and atherosclerotic heart disease. Exercise can help lower those risks. Exercising outdoors offers the benefit of sun exposure. It’s been known for some time that ultraviolet light can improve psoriasis, as long as the skin doesn’t burn.

Q: What guidelines would you give to someone with psoriasis who wants to exercise?

A: First of all, if you haven’t worked out in a while, talk to your doctor. You may want to have a full physical exam to make sure that you’re healthy enough in general to begin a new fitness routine. Once you get the go-ahead, choose activities that won’t involve putting pressure on areas of your body that are most prone to flares, and don’t overdo it. Exercising to the point of exhaustion could make you sick, or induce stress rather than reduce it. If you plan to exercise outdoors, be careful about sun exposure. A little sunlight is helpful for psoriasis, but if you’re going to be outside for extended periods of time, you need to use sunscreen to avoid getting burned and increasing your risk of skin cancer. Also, dress comfortably, in loose, lightweight clothing that won’t rub or chafe inflamed skin. Apply a thick moisturizer or petroleum jelly to sensitive, friction-prone areas. If you really work up a sweat while exercising, shower soon afterwards; sitting around in damp clothing could put you at risk of a fungal infection that might aggravate your psoriasis in areas like the underarms or groin.

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