Bicycling with Lupus

Bicycling may be the perfect exercise for people with Lupus. On a bicycle you can ride as hard or easy as you feel like you can handle and go as far as you are comfortable with.
I've had Lupus for more than 25 years and have been an avid cyclist for most of that time. For a while my Lupus wasn't adequately under control and I was off my bike for a few years. I resumed riding again about 7 years ago and, due to being away from cycling for so long, it took me some time to get back in shape again. I've always enjoyed cycling and I believe it does help ease the symptoms of Lupus if done properly.

People with Lupus have a need for this type of exercise for a few reasons:
They need to keep their bodies strong as this helps make the inevitable Lupus flare easier to deal with.  Exercise (along with a healthy diet) helps to control weight gain and other problems that can occur due to use of drugs such as Prednisone, which are used to control the symptoms of Lupus.  Bicycling for exercise is an aerobic activity and is therefore considered to be healthy for your heart.

Even though bicycling can be beneficial, for people with Lupus there are a few extra precautions that you must take. Before getting on a bike you may want to consult with your Doctor. If your Lupus symptoms are stable, you aren't seriously Ill from the disease, and your Doctor approves, there's no reason not to give bicycling a try.

Taking the following precautions should help avoid common problems associated with exercising and being outdoors with Lupus. Most of these precautions are common to everybody, however, they are VERY important for Lupus patients.

  • Start out slow - You may only be able to ride a few miles at a time the first few times out, especially if you haven't ridden for quite a while. This is perfectly fine. It's better to start out slow and build up to it then it is to try to ride several miles and make yourself sick.
  • Be careful of sun exposure - This is very important due to the fact that being out in the sun unprotected is one of the biggest causes of Lupus flares, especially in the summertime. Be sure to wear a sunscreen with as high of an SPF factor as possible when venturing outside. The sunscreen you use needs to offer protection for both UVA and UVB rays. You'll want to apply sunscreen to your face and all exposed parts of your body. You'll also want to wear sunglasses, preferably polarized. People with Lupus are frequently advised to wear a hat when venturing outside. When cycling you'll be wearing a bicycle helmet which may not offer the best protection from the sun. You NEED the helmet for safety so there's a bit of a tradeoff here.
  • Drink plenty of fluids when riding - This can't be stressed enough. How much is enough? A common recommendation is to drink about 20 ounces of water for every hour you ride. That's the equivalent of one water bottle every hour. I usually carry 2 - 20 ounce water bottles, one filled with water and the other one filled with Gatorade. The Gatorade replaces the electrolytes you use while riding.
  • Eat properly - Be sure to carry plenty of snacks along while riding. Eating early and often is highly recommended. I've been so shaky from not eating while riding that I've had to stop at a store and buy candy bars and sweet drinks. To avoid having this happen to you, take plenty of snacks. A common recommendation is to eat 1 snack for every hour you ride. The snacks you see in a bicycle shop or stores that cater to runners may cost a little bit more but they really do work. Your diet when you aren't riding should be high in fruits and vegetables and lean meat such as fish our poultry. Red meat once in a while is okay, just keep the portions very small. Stay away from fried foods and fast food restaurants altogether.
  • Get plenty of rest - This is important for everybody but for people with Lupus it's even more so. Our bodies repair themselves while we are sleeping. When we go without sleep and wear ourselves out we stand a high chance of causing the flares we are trying to avoid. Plenty of sleep time is a must. 
Though there is no guarantee that you won't have trouble with Lupus when trying to be physically active (Lupus is an extremely unpredictable disease), following these simple rules should help alleviate some or all of the problems you may encounter. The benefits of exercise are many. A stronger body will be able to deal with Lupus flares much easier, you'll have more energy, and you should be able to control your weight much easier. Happy riding and I hope to see you on the road soon.

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