Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that primarily impacts the joints by causing inflammation and damage. RA is chronic, meaning it can last for a long time, and it is progressive, meaning it can get worse over time. However, RA is both treatable and manageable through a combination of medical therapies and lifestyle adaptations, including exercise.

 

It's a common misconception that exercise can worsen RA. Contrary to popular belief, you SHOULD exercise when you have RA.

 

Getting regular exercise when you have RA is linked to reduced pain, increased energy, as well as better sleep and functioning. Exercise can prevent the buildup of scar tissue to help prevent joint stiffness, and it decreases the degeneration of bone, joint, and muscle that can lead to physical disability. Exercise may also help prevent secondary health issues that are more likely in people with RA, such as heart problems.

 

 

Different Types of Exercise You Should Combine

Ideally, you should aim to get 150 minutes of low- to moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of more intense activity every week, though it may take some time to get there gradually. There are three types of exercise that you should try to incorporate, especially when you have RA:

  1. Conditioning exercises, which help improve cardiovascular health and overall fitness
  2. Strengthening exercises, which help preserve or increase muscle strength and joint support
  3. Stretching, which helps maintain flexibility and range of motion, improve posture, and reduce the risk of injury

 

Conditioning Exercises for People With RA

Conditioning, also known as cardiovascular or aerobic exercise, is physical activity that increases your breathing and heart rate and helps strengthen the heart and lungs. You may find that it also helps reduce pain.

 

More vigorous conditioning, such as cycling, is usually safe for people with well controlled RA. Consider starting off slowly with a moderate, low-impact activity, like a 20- to 30-minute walk, and then build up gradually. The important thing is that the exercise doesn’t do more harm than good — for example, long distance running could be high-impact and put too much pressure or stress on the joints.

 

Strengthening Exercises for People With RA

Strengthening exercises help build muscle, and stronger muscles provide greater support for the joints.

 

For most people, strengthening exercises should be done four or five days per week. People with RA should generally strive for one set of eight to 10 repetitions for the major muscle groups of the body each workout. In some cases, for instance if you’re older, recovering from surgery, or experiencing a flare, it may be better to adjust, opting for more repetitions with less resistance. 

 

Stretching for RA

Stretching helps preserve and increase your flexibility, which reduces your risk of injury and alleviates stiffness. Stretching exercises involve moving your body parts through their full range of motion and holding the stretch for at least 10 to 15 seconds. Try to move every joint through its full range of motion every day. It's a good idea to stretch regularly throughout your day, particularly if you tend to sit or lie down for long stretches.

 

Listen to Your Doctors and Your Body

Be sure to consult your RA providers before starting any exercise program. In most instances, physical activity doesn’t come with risk of harm. But for some people, some types of exercise (especially more intense activities) might be unsafe or could worsen your RA.

 

It's vital that you listen to your body. Pain is NOT part of the process, it's a sign that you’re  pushing yourself too hard. Remember: If your RA symptoms (such as RA fatigue, joint pain, and inflammation) flare up and make exercise more challenging, getting even a little physical activity daily is better for you than being sedentary.

 

 

 

References

  1. Benefits of Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis
  2. Being Active When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
  3. Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis
  4. Exercise and Arthritis
  5. Fatigue and RA

 

This article was written by Nyaka Mwanza for myrateam.com.