5 Exercise Tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Managing RA with Exercise

Exercise works to get your heart pumping, but did you know that it can also help keep your rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms under control? According to the American College of Rheumatology, people with RA are twice as likely to develop heart disease and other vascular complications, including heart attacks, angina, and strokes, than the average person. Therefore, regular exercise is not only considered a safe treatment option for people with RA, it can be essential to maintaing heart and joint health. 

A consistent exercise routine works to get you through RA flare-ups and helps you thrive with your chronic pain condition.

In-depth Articles on Other Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments

What Exercises Should You Do for Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The American College of Rheumatology recommends you get 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week.1 That's 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. It may seem like a lot at first, but you can do this. It's completely manageable if you know how to work it into your schedule.

With aerobic exercise, you have many options. For example you can walk, dance, and do water aerobics. However, it's also important to incorporate strengthening and flexibility exercises into an exercise routine for rheumatoid arthritis.

Examples of strengthening exercises are light weight lifting and push-ups, and examples of flexibility exercises are yoga and Pilates.

A well-rounded exercise routine that includes these 3 types of exercise can significantly help you manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

It's best to avoid high-impact, vigorous exercise, such as running and heavy weight lifting, when you have rheumatoid arthritis, unless you get your doctor's okay or you're in excellent shape.

The Benefits of Exercising with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Some of the most important benefits of exercising with rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • boosts your immune system
  • decreases joint pain and stiffness
  • enhances energy
  • helps you keep a healthy weight (especially important because extra pounds can put extra pressure on joints, such as your knees)
  • improves your overall sense of well-being and your mood
  • increases range of motion and flexibility
  • promotes restful sleep
  • reduces fatigue
  • strengthens joints, bones, and muscles

5 Rheumatoid Arthritis Exercise Tips

  1. Break it up into smaller segments. If you can't exercise for 30 minutes straight—whether you can't find the time or it just seems like too much exercise at once—divide your exercise into more manageable time frames. For example, take a brisk 10-minute walk around the block after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This way, you're still fitting in your 30 minutes of exercise—just in much smaller segments, and that's perfectly fine.
  2. Get some guidance. Work with a physical therapist or certified personal trainer to get started. He or she can create a customized exercise plan to help you manage rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
  3. Listen to your body. Take your time getting into an exercise program. No one expects you to walk a marathon your first week of consistent exercise. Respect your body, and go slow. If something doesn't feel right to you, stop and call your doctor right away, especially if you have pain or new symptoms that last for more than a few days. Some soreness is normal after exercise, but this usually goes away in a couple of days.
  4. Mix it up. Exercise doesn't have to be boring. Switch up your routine by doing something different every day. For example, take an evening yoga class on Mondays, do some light weight lifting on Tuesdays, do water aerobics on Wednesdays, walk with an exercise buddy on Thursdays, and pop in a workout DVD on Saturday mornings.
  5. Take the stairs. Every step really does add up. By taking the stairs, parking your car at the far end of the lot, and taking the long way to get to the bathroom, you add just a little more activity into your day. This is part of an overall healthy lifestyle and can even lead to other healthy choices throughout the day.

Exercise to Live Well with Rheumatoid Arthritis
The good news is that you don't need to spend hours in the gym to see results. In fact, you don't even need a gym membership to be active. But the more exercise you get, the stronger you'll feel, and the easier it'll be to manage your rheumatoid arthritis.

As always, before beginning an exercise program for rheumatoid arthritis, have a conversation with your doctor about incorporating exercise onto your rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan and your healthy lifestyle.

Updated on: 11/19/15