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Physical Inactivity, Depression, and Lupus

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People with lupus are both more likely to develop depression, and more likely to not live active lifestyles. The two are more deeply connected than many people realize.

Depression and problems with keeping up physical activity are issues that many people with lupus face. Unfortunately, many lupus symptoms can make both depression and inactivity worse!

Lupus Warriors often have light sensitivities, fatigue, and pain, which prevent them from being active. You can read more about lupus and fatigue here. Pain, fatigue, isolation, medication side effects, and a lack of support from family members or doctors can lead to depression. You can read more about depression and lupus here.

Depression and inactivity (also known as a sedentary lifestyle) do not occur in a vacuum. In fact, depression is well-known to affect physical activity. On days where it’s hard to get out of bed, working out is can be a tall order. But, being physically active can help battle symptoms of depression. 

According to several studies on people with SLE, a lack of physical activity is a big indicator that depression will develop down the line within two years. If someone no longer finds joy in an activity, it can be difficult to stay motivated. This leads to a frustrating feedback loop that can leave people with lupus stuck in a bad situation.


The Data on Physical Activity and Depression in Lupus

Depression is very common for people with lupus. Depending on the study and how they define depression, the rates of depression can range from 50% to 93%. When people with lupus have a low level of physical activity, they are three times more likely to report that they have depression down the line – even years later.

Whether low physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle is a cause of depression, a result or indicator of depression, or both is unclear. However, the link between physical activity and depression was stronger than with income level, race, and symptom severity.

Other symptoms of lupus, of course, contribute to depression. In a study, 72 people with lupus were given tests for fatigue, depression, anxiety, and symptom intensity. The worse the physical symptoms were, the worse the depression was.


Physical Activity Benefits for Lupus

60% of people with lupus are not getting enough exercise, according to the standards of the WHO. You can learn more about the organization here. Regular exercise is well-known to help alleviate symptoms of lupus and symptoms of depression. Exercises can be classified into

  • Aerobic exercises, which workout the circulatory system, including the heart and lungs.
  • Strengthening, which workout the skeletal system and improve strength and stamina.
  • Stretching, which loosen the tendons and improve flexibility.

There are many benefits to exercising, including the release of chemicals called endorphins that both lighten mood and reduce pain. Endorphins also appear to improve immune system regulation, so exercise might even help hold back flares.

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A Lupus Warrior’s Takeaway

As a person with lupus, you are likely sick of people telling you constantly to “eat healthier,” “get more exercise,” or “feel better.” The people telling you these things may be trying to help, but it can also bring you down. They just don’t understand. You are trying. Sometimes, all that you can do is to get through the day.

It’s a vicious cycle. Fatigue leads to lower levels of physical activity, which contributes to lower levels of heart health and more pain, which leads to lower levels of fitness, which leads to more fatigue. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through your full physical routine. With both mental health and physical health, you should focus on keeping up the basics. Make sure you are eating, drinking, and sleeping properly. Find things that get you through the day, and prioritize that. If you need help to do something that gives you energy and takes care of your basic needs, then that help is good for you and well worth it. You can read more about sleep strategies and lupus here.


Do a little bit every day.

You can make exercise and mobility in general a lot less painful or frustrating when you are up for more than just the basics. You can read about some simple exercises and stretches for people with lupus on the site here. Make sure that you get a minimum of necessities every day to keep your strength up. This will make your good days more frequent and, possibly, a little better.


Keeping a pet can be very good for one’s mental health.

Pets rely on you for care, and after taking care of them, it can be a little easier to do what you need to do for yourself. Certain pet-care tasks can also be used as a way to perform be used physical therapy, even beyond walking a dog. You can read more about pets and lupus, here.


Give yourself minimum goals of self-care and physical activity every day.

Then, when you achieve them, give yourself a pat on the back. Even if you don’t manage it, give yourself that pat on the back anyway. Smile at yourself in the mirror, which leads to the final takeaway –

Forgive yourself.

Comments (4)

4 thoughts on “Physical Inactivity, Depression, and Lupus

  1. Whom ever wrote this article, thank you sooo much. You’ve explained so much. I’ve experienced almost every thing mentioned in this article. It’s a relief just feeling validated on how I feel & why I feel this way. Having this information helps me to Help Me. Thanks!

  2. I feel exactly like the above article. I am so tired from several family stressors. Unfortunately my family members dont “get it” that I am not well because I look ok. Today I woke up and am so fatigued my heart feels tired. I cant explain it any other way. It was easier to go to work and come home and rest than the constant pressure from “loved ones’ that expect things from me. I am due to have back surgery but my white count is too low. I fell and bruised some ribs a week ago and am still in pain from that. I have no desire to cleans and I used to be a cleaning freak. I really want to run away -escape..

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