Moderate exercise and physical workout for around half an hour a day can really help control further spreading of vitiligo patches and even stimulate skin re-pigmentation when clubbed with a healthy and restricted diet, positive lifestyle and intelligent use of dietary supplements and natural herbs.
Dr Aneesh Sharma, a Chandigarh, India based dermatologist recommends moderate physical workout, proper sleep, healthy diet and good amounts of drinking water as a part of vitiligo management strategy.
Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin condition; the faulty and confused immune system attacks the body’s own pigment producing skin cells to cause skin de-pigmentation aka loss of skin color. The exact cause of vitiligo is unknown. However, the list of possible causes includes:
- Chronic stress
- Poor gut health- poor digestion, chronic constipation, impaired liver, lack of healthy gut bacteria, low stomach acid, leaky gut syndrome
- Nutritional deficiency (due to poor gut health)
- Faulty genes (hereditary)
- Skin injuries
- Infections (such as strep throat)
- Steroids and antibiotics abuse
- Over consumption of alcohol
- Unhealthy diet and lifestyle habits
- Heavy metals (mercury, lead, arsenic, etc.) toxicity due to contaminated drinking water and pesticides in food items
One or more of the above states reasons trigger autoimmune reaction that results in chronic inflammation and destruction (damage) of melanocytes (pigment producing skin cells) to develop white vitiligo lesions on various parts of the body.
How exercise and physical workout can help here?
- Stress buster
Stress is certainly the most common trigger for all autoimmune health issues, including vitiligo. Chronic stress causes inflammation, negatively affects the gut health and trigger autoimmunity. (1, 2) Physical activities and workout are among the most effective stress busters. (3) According to an online survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise is one of the most frequently used techniques to cope with stress and depression. Other prominent techniques as revealed in that survey were talking to family and friends and sleeping. (4) Exercise and physical workout stimulate your body to produce endorphins. The endorphins are natural mood enhancers and pain killers. (4) Regular physical workout can elevate and stabilize your mood, improve sleep quality, lift your self esteem and relieve stress and anxiety.
- Improves gut health and metabolism
Regular physical workout kick-starts the body metabolism to improve digestion and proper elimination. Proper digestion means optimum absorption of food nutrients and relief from constipation.
- Improves gut flora
The human gut houses trillions of microbes. The delicate balance between healthy gut microbes (probiotics) and unhealthy microbes is crucial for overall health, particularly the immune system. In case of autoimmune disorders, the disease causing unhealthy microbes overpower the healthy probiotics to wreak havoc on the immune system. (5, 6, 7). Regular exercise can help here. Research studies show that regular exercise can enhance the number of healthy microbes in the human gut to relieve autoimmunity. (8)
- Body detox
Moderate intensity exercise can stimulate sweating which is your body’s natural mechanism to expel toxins through the skin pores. Reduced body toxins would lower the load on liver, improve gut health and reduce blood impurity to automatically calm down the immune system. Please do note that holistic (natural) healing of vitiligo includes body detoxification and sweating can help with that.
- Reduces obesity
Obesity worsens autoimmune disorders and regular exercise is a natural way to get rid of excess body weight. (9) This is a conventional wisdom that regular physical workout reduces obesity to maintain body weight. (10, 11, 12)
- Reduces inflammation
Regular exercise for just 20 minutes a day can reduce the inflammation by 12 percent. (13) Regular exercise activities infuse fresh blood and oxygen to various parts of the body to fight oxidative stress. It pumps the lymphatic system to dispose off body wastage and restores the gut health.
Moderate exercise is good. Don’t get too aggressive
Regular exercise has hard-to-ignore benefits for you. But, don’t push your body too hard otherwise it would result in a lot of physical stress which will further trigger the immune system to worsen your vitiligo. (14, 15)
For example, brisk walking or running at a moderate, comfortable speed is good. But, running fiercely will be counter-productive. Similarly, stretching exercises and lifting lighter weights is good, but, excessive training and lifting heavy weights may prove harmful.
Outdoor sports like football, basketball and cricket are good once in a while. But, playing these hardcore games everyday may be too much for your already stressed body.
Too little is bad, too much is also bad. Choose the middle path!
Why people don’t exercise regularly?
Regular exercise is vital for overall well being of a person. Its importance increases manifolds if you are dealing with a chronic autoimmune health condition like vitiligo. Still, many of the people avoid exercise. Why so?
- Health ignorant attitude– Many of the people with vitiligo consider it their biggest challenge. Still, they exercise hardly once or twice a day or don’t exercise at all. It simply reflects their ignorant attitude. As we know, vitiligo doesn’t have a cure, but, it can be managed successfully. Regular exercise plays a crucial role in vitiligo management in a natural way.
- Exercise is not appealing- For many people, investing 30 minutes a day to exercise is a ‘boring’ activity. They prefer movies, music, gossiping over exercise. In that case, we need to understand that exercise and physical workout is not always boring. You just need to choose the ‘right’ physical workout that attracts you. Dancing, outdoor games, aerobics, bicycling, gym workout, jogging, brisk walking, yoga, tai chi, and many more options to choose from.
Additional tips and safety measures
- Wear easy-fitting, light weight clothes made from fibers such as cotton and rayon. These fibers have better moisture management (sweat absorbing) properties to allow you a comfortable experience.
- People dealing with chronic heart issues, hypertension, arthritis, and other serious health conditions should consult their doctors before choosing the physical activity.
- Exposure to sunrays for 10-15 minutes a day is good for people with vitiligo as it provides high quality vitamin D. However, if it gives you burning sensation, then cover your skin with comfortable clothing and may apply a suitable sunscreen for further protection.
Read more: Vitamin D deficiency and Vitiligo
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