Exercise and Rheumatoid Arthritis
When you have inflammation and joint pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis (RA), getting motivated to move can be difficult. But exercise is an essential part of managing your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and that knowledge should help you get active.
The simple fact is that exercise is a great rheumatoid arthritis nonsurgical treatment to help reduce your pain. We've even put together a slideshow of joint-friendly exercises to do when you have rheumatoid arthritis. Watch the rheumatoid arthritis exercise slideshow.
Some exercise benefits specific for RA sufferers include:
- It promotes joint strength. Healthy joints allow for easier mobility and greater range of motion.
- It strengthens muscles and builds denser bones. Gentle exercises—like walking, swimming, and biking—strengthen muscles and bones without unnecessary stress to the joints.
- It's good for your mental health. Exercise reduces stress, anxiety, and depression, all conditions you may experience when you have rheumatoid arthritis.
- It keeps the weight off. If you have RA, your joints are already worn down. Extra weight puts even more stress on your joints. Losing weight will take the pressure off your tired joints, and thus, reduce your pain.
Where to Start
The first step is having a realistic look at exercise. You don't have to spend hours at the gym, and your work outs need not be mini boot camp sessions. You can improve your fitness, and thereby strengthen your back and reduce your rheumatoid arthritis pain, with some simple range-of-motion, aerobic, and strengthening exercises.
It's important to know that progression is key to the success of any fitness program. For example, don't jump into an intense strength training program without first mastering an aerobic or introductory strength regimen. If you don't start slow, you may end up causing more hurt than good.
What Exercises to Do
- Range-of-motion exercises should become daily rituals to promote normal joint movement and increase flexibility. These exercises can be as simple as bending forward and to the sides.
- Aerobic exercises, particularly walking or biking, are great options for people with rheumatoid arthritis. These exercises burn calories and build lean muscle without putting pressure on your joints. All you need to devote is 20-30 minutes, three times a week, to reap the benefits
- Strengthening exercises can be done every day, unless you're in extreme pain. You might want to lift free weights or enroll in a yoga class, which is a popular alternative treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. (Yoga is actually a form of strength training, as it uses your own body weight for resistance.)
A word of caution: Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what exercises will best suit you before beginning any fitness program.
You'll need to take your pain and fitness levels into account, and you'll want to tell your doctor what activities you most enjoy to increase the odds that you'll stick with the program. Together, you'll develop an exercise program that will help you best manage your rheumatoid arthritis pain.