Autoimmune disorders are a wide range of poorly understood syndromes that result in a variety of symptoms. They occur when the immune system inadvertently attacks healthy body tissue.
There are more than 80 different types of autoimmune disorders.
Normally, the body’s immune system protects itself from antigens by sending inflammatory mediators and white blood cells to consume and release foreign particles. Examples of antigens include bacteria, viruses, toxins and cancer cells. In people with an autoimmune disorder, the immune system cannot differentiate between healthy body tissue and antigens. The result is that the immune system begins to destroy normal body tissues. The response is a hypersensitivity reaction similar to an allergic reaction. During an allergic reaction, the immune system reacts to an outside substance that it would normally ignore. With an autoimmune disorder, the immune system reacts to normal body tissue that it would normally ignore.
Examples of autoimmune disorders include Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
There are some common symptoms associated with autoimmune disorders that include general fatigue, painful lymph nodes, generalized muscle pain, joint pain and poor sleep patterns.
Autoimmune disorders are syndromes that revolve around periods of flare and remission. When an individual is in a flare, their symptoms are much worse and tend to become worse with physical activity. It is important to identify factors that tend to put these individuals in a flare so as to maintain a lifestyle that minimizes the risk.
Typically, factors associated with flares include stress, temperature changes, and excessive fatigue. Those individuals with autoimmune disorders are often reluctant to exercise for fear of exacerbating their symptoms. As such, their exercise program needs to be respectful of their fear.
Individuals with autoimmune disorders typically demonstrate significant improvement in function and quality of life when their program is progressed slowly and maintained at an intensity that limits the risk of systemic flares. However, programs need to take into account some of the unique difficulties of working with this population.
The most important goal of an exercise program for this population is to minimize further deconditioning that could occur from a sedentary lifestyle that in turn may compound the disability associated with the individual’s disease.
Participants should be aware that they might feel increased fatigue in the first few weeks of an exercise program. Exercises should begin at very low levels and be based on the individual’s current exercise tolerance.
Aerobic exercise should utilize a familiar activity such as walking that can be started at a low level.
Flexibility exercises should be an integral part of the individual’s program to maintain normal joint range of motion.
Strength exercises should be functional in nature and minimize the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
The progression of exercise activity should primarily focus on slowly increasing the duration of mild to moderate intensity activities as opposed to increasing the intensity of activities. Individuals may overexert themselves on days when they are feeling well if they are not counseled to maintain an appropriate level of intensity.
Learn more about training Special Populations, including those with Hypertension, CAD, Type I and Type II diabetes, asthma, and autoimmune disorders in the Personal Fitness Trainer Certification Course.