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Exercise and Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases can cause abnormally low or high activity in the immune system. They are a heterogeneous group of chronic diseases, that occur secondary to loss of self-antigen tolerance. With new developments in biological treatments, and better outcomes being noted in the management of autoimmune diseases. Studies have determined the importance of adjustable habits such as lack of physical activity (PA) among several different aspects of the immune system and autoimmune diseases.

There are many well known benefits regarding the role of physical activity (PA) in many chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases (CVD’S) and diabetes mellitus, amongst others. However, when discussing autoimmune diseases some may argue that the ready information regarding the benefits of PA may be lacking. Tie that in with societies current lack of energy expenditure roles, side effects of some medications, the higher levels of depression associated with autoimmune disorders etc… and we could have a recipe for disaster.

Whilst research is still relatively new and ongoing in this field of study there is enough research to support the following. PA has been shown to lead to a significant elevation in T-regulatory cells (cells that prevent autoimmune disease, modulate the immune system, maintain tolerance to self-antigens), decreased immunoglobulin secretion (critical part of immune response) and produces a shift in the Th1/Th2 balance to a decreased Th1 cell production. PA has also shown to promote the release of Interleukin-6 (IL-6) from muscles. IL-6 released from muscles functions as a myokine and has been shown to induce an anti-inflammatory response through Interleukin-10 (IL-10) secretion and Interleukin-1Beta (IL-1Beta) inhibition. IL-10 involving immunosuppressive and immunostimulatory properties, Il-1Beta being associated with inflammatory pain sensitivity, modulation of autoimmune inflammation and many autoinflammatory syndromes. These are all important biologic factors to take note of.

While studies are still being conducted, undergoing PA has been shown to be safe in most of autoimmune diseases especially if performed taking the autoimmune disease into account. This includes Psoriasis, Vasculitis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (HT)systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), multiple sclerosis (MS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), as well as others. Statistics show, patients with autoimmune diseases tend to be less physically active when comparing to the general population.

Notes worth adding, patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes mellitus engaged in PA, show a decreased risk of CVD and autonomic neuropathy. Patients with fibromyalgia and systematic sclerosis (SSC) report decreased disease severity and Pain with increased PA. SSC patients have also shown improvements in their grip strength, finger stretching and mouth opening with increased PA. PA has been shown to decrease fatigue, enhance mood, increase cognitive abilities and mobility in patients with MS. Across the board increased levels of PA in patients has shown an enhance quality of life and a better CVD profile.


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