In recent years, many studies have proven that various types of physical activity not only promote general health in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), but can actually help manage a variety of RA symptoms and medication side effects. Regular exercise – just 20 to 30 minutes per day – can reduce your levels of pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Aerobic exercise keeps your heart healthy, increases your strength, mobility and balance, and improves bowel function. Resistance training such as weight-lifting builds muscle strength and healthy bones as well as making you less prone to injury and quicker to recover from injuries. Stretching activities such as yoga can improve flexibility, strength, and range of motion as well as relaxing your muscles. Gentle martial arts such as tai chi or qi gong (pronounced chee gong) can improve balance and promote deep breathing and relaxation. Exercise can lessen symptoms of fatigue and depression and promote social interaction.
Pain, stiffness, and fatigue lead many people with RA to give up on exercise and become increasingly sedentary. However, lack of physical activity can accelerate the progression of the disease and contribute to the development of other conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
What does it involve?
Always check with your doctor before beginning new exercise regimen. It is also a good idea to consult a physical therapist for help in determining a customized exercise plan that will be safe and beneficial for you.
Whatever type of exercise you choose, follow these general safety guidelines. Always begin your workout session with a gradual warm-up and take time to cool down afterward. This will help prevent sore or pulled muscles. Exercise should be somewhat challenging, but never a struggle. If at any point during exercise you feel sick or in pain, stop right away. Make certain the exercise space is well-lit, not slippery, and free of trip hazards. Stay hydrated with plenty of cool liquids, choosing beverages without caffeine. If you have trouble maintaining your balance, stay within reach of a rail or bar you can hold.
It is important to choose a type of exercise you will enjoy. Consider joining a class to keep you motivated and incorporate social aspects.
Aerobic exercise can take many forms. Walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary or recumbent bike, or swimming can all provide effective exercise for your heart and lungs. These activities can easily be made safe even if you have problems with balance or coordination.
Resistance training such as lifting weights can be done seated, and it can involve as light a weight as you are able to lift comfortably. Even small amounts of weight or resistance provide benefits.
Some people with RA benefit from water exercises such as swimming laps or doing water aerobics. Whatever type of activity you prefer, you may find it easier to do in the water. Because your body feels lighter and more buoyant, you may find it may be easier to lift weights or do cardiovascular exercises. You may also feel more flexible, making it less difficult to stretch. Water also provides some natural resistance to movement, increasing the benefits of even very gentle movements.
Yoga consists of moving your body into an array of different positions that provide stretching and various levels of challenge for strength, flexibility, and balance. There are many types of yoga and many different teaching styles. The right yoga class can provide many benefits for those with RA. You may need to ask several questions before finding an appropriate class and an experienced teacher. There are special yoga classes for older people or people with physical disabilities. Many yoga poses can be done while seated.
Gentle martial arts such as tai chi and qi gong consist of slow, gentle movements and deep breathing. They are popular exercises for the elderly in China, and they can be done while seated.
Daily activities such as shopping, gardening, or walking a pet can also provide safe, valuable exercise.
It is important not to become discouraged early on when beginning an exercise regimen. Set attainable goals and focus on finding ways of staying active that are safe, enjoyable and easy to do regularly. If you experience a flare-up in one joint, adjust your work-out program to protect that joint while continuing to exercise safely.
Exercise can help you achieve and maintain your best physical and psychological condition. A regular exercise regimen can reduce pain, stiffness, and fatigue, increase strength and well-being, promote a healthy weight, stave off heart disease and diabetes, and improve your mood and self-esteem. It can help you avoid injury and recover more quickly.
Research shows that people with rheumatoid arthritis who exercise regularly experience less pain, have more energy, and report better quality sleep and daily function.
In preliminary studies, yoga appears to decrease the number of swollen, tender joints and improve physical function. It may also increase strength and flexibility.
In several small studies of people with RA, tai chi has been shown to improve overall physical function, mood, and quality of life.
Some RA symptoms, including pain, stiffness, and fatigue, can make it difficult to stay motivated to keep up with exercise. Side effects of medication can also interfere.
Those with a disability or spinal problems should take extra care to prevent injury while exercising. Choose exercises that can be modified for your safety.
Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to travel to group exercise classes.