Waking up in the morning with the joint pain, swelling and stiffness that accompanies lupus does not exactly inspire workout. But research published in Frontiers in Physiology and a related pilot study in humans are showing how regular activity and stress reduction could lead to better health in the long run.

In the mouse model of lupus, researchers from the Ohio State University found that moderate exercise (45 minutes of treadmill walking per day) significantly decreased inflammatory damage to the kidneys. While 88% of non-exercised mice had severe damage, only 45% of the treadmill-exercised animals did.

The researchers think they know why: Several biomarkers known to drive inflammation plummeted in the exercise group. So the researchers intended to see what happened to those same biomarkers in lupus mice exposed to a well-established animal model of social disruption known to induce psychological stress.

The results were almost exactly the opposite – the inflammatory markers shot up, which caused substantial kidney damage in the mice. "If we observe similar results in human studies, this could mean that stress reduction and a daily regimen of physical therapy should be considered as interventional strategies to be used alongside current medical treatment," said Nicholas Young, senior author of the study.

"We have started to characterize an effective way to reduce inflammation and help people with lupus aside from conventional drug therapy," Young said. "What you hear a lot from patients is that they are hurting and they do not want to get out of bed in the morning and do not feel like exercising. intuitive that movement will make you feel better, but it does. "

To see if these results would apply to humans, Young's research team enrolled in a group of lupus patients into a daily tai chi program in a small pilot study. The classes focused on both moderate exercise and stress reduction. Initial results show a significant decrease in some of the same inflammatory biomarkers identified in the mouse experiments, Young said.

"We've shown a molecular level that both exercise and stress can impact inflammation by regulation of the immune system, which may provide a unique opportunity to help people suffering from the chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases like lupus," Young said.

Young said that the research findings prompt him to wonder about the potential for similar exercise-induced inflammatory changes in other diseases that affect the joints, including arthritis and gout. Ongoing work in his laboratory will be examining these conditions as well, he said.