When you live with RA, you may not feel like walking or stretching – but finding the right balance between rest and exercise can help your mobility and even your mood. Before you start exercising, talk to your doctor about light, gentle exercises that will not stress your joints and are safe for people with RA.
The Best Exercise Options for Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), your symptoms can include joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and fatigue. This autoimmune disease causes inflammation in the joints and damage to surrounding tendons and ligaments. Symptoms become more severe during a flare-up and less severe during a period of remission.
Stretching is a great way to start exercising if you’ve been diagnosed with RA. Slow and gentle movements of the knees, hands, and elbows can help relieve stiffness, improve flexibility, and increase range of motion. An example of a suitable stretching routine for RA includes:
- Warmup — March in place or pump arms seated or standing for three to five minutes.
- Stretching — Stretch different muscles and hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds. Work up to repeating each stretch three times.
Always start slowly and stop stretching if you feel pain. Begin by holding each stretch once for 10 seconds and progress slowly to longer stretches and more repetitions.
If you’re looking for an exercise that you can do almost anywhere, walking is the answer. It benefits your joints and heart by providing low-impact, aerobic conditioning. You may even notice that your mood has improved.
Before you start, ensure you have proper walking shoes. Begin slowly on flat surfaces and stay hydrated. As your body gets used to walking, you can try including hills in your routine.
Bicycle riding is another great way to combine aerobic conditioning and cardio in a single workout. If you’ve been exercising and feel comfortable outdoors, try a short bike ride along a flat surface. If you prefer, you can use a stationary bicycle in your home or at a gym. A stationary bike lets you safely strengthen your leg muscles, reduce stiffness, increase endurance, and improve range of motion.
Strength training helps your muscles take the pressure off weakened joints. A physical therapist who works with people who have RA can show you how to safely exercise with weights. It’s important to have guidance from a physical therapist to prevent injury and ensure that you are using weights properly.
You may be advised to start with resistance bands and work up to using light weights. Your therapist will instruct you to gradually increase the repetitions and sets for each exercise. Typically, the goal is to progress from one to three sets of 15 repetitions per exercise.
Tai Chi and Yoga
Gentle and flowing movements combined with deep breathing make yoga and tai chi wonderful options for people with RA. In 2013, researchers found that tai chi sessions help improve self-esteem and motivation while reducing depression and anxiety among people with RA. In the same year, another study showed that iyengar yoga helps improve mood and relieve symptoms such as disability pain, fatigue, and anxiety in women.
Some fitness centers provide water exercise classes. Ask your doctor about classes in your area that are suitable for people with RA. Water supports your weight and provides resistance, making it an ideal environment for exercising with RA. When you’re ready, try adding water weights to your workout. You’ll enjoy the benefits of strength training and aerobic exercise without putting stress on your joints.
When you’re planning an exercise program, remember to include exercises for the small joints in your hands. RA often severely impacts hands, so it’s important to strengthen your wrist and finger joints. Hand exercises for people with RA include:
- Fingertip touch — Hold your palms outward and slowly bend your index finger to touch your thumb. Open your hand an repeat with each finger.
- Finger lift — Place your hand palm downward, flat on a table. Spread your fingers and lift your thumb as high as possible. Lower your thumb back to the table and repeat with each finger. Repeat with your other hand.
- Finger curl — With palm upward, slowly curl your fingers closed. Slowly open your hand and repeat with your other hand.
You can repeat each exercise as many times as is comfortable for you.
Precautions During a Flare
It’s important to listen to your body when living with RA. If your RA symptoms flare, let your body choose when and how much to exercise. It’s better to be cautious than to overdo and risk injury. Your doctor or physical therapist can give you tips for exercising during a flare. For example, you may be able to divide your usual 30 minute exercise session into three 10 minute sessions with breaks in between each set.
When discussing treatment options such as Remicade infusions, ask your doctor about exercising safely during a flare.
Exercise and Treatment Options
Light and gentle exercises can be an important part of living well with RA. Whether it’s yoga or bike riding, the key is to progress slowly and gradually. Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend the duration and number of repetitions and sets for each exercise.
Treatment at IVX Health
If biologics like Remicade, Actemra or Orencia are a part of your chronic illness treatment plan, then consider choosing IVX Health for your ongoing care needs. IVX Health makes it possible to receive your therapy in a comfortable, convenient, and private environment.
With a private suite for every patient, you can watch your favorite Netflix show or movie on the big screen TV in each room, use a laptop or other mobile device to surf the web, or simply hang out with family and friends. We always have chairs for guests, and each center has a family room that is spacious and private if you need to bring your kids to your treatment. We also offer flexible appointment scheduling – including evenings and Saturdays – at any of our convenient locations.
At IVX Health, we truly are invested in helping you live your best life. If you’re ready to experience a new kind of infusion clinic, click here to learn how to move your infusion or injection therapy to IVX Health.