I have rheumatoid arthritis and I am wondering what types of exercise I should do to stay in shape and keep my joints healthy without putting too much strain on them. Do you have any recommendations?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, which means that your immune system attacks other parts of your body. RA causes redness, pain, swelling or a hot (warm) felling in the lining of a joint. This redness, or warmth, around the joint is called inflammation. It is important to understand your body and know when to exercise and when to rest. Many people will have bouts of pain and stiffness especially in the morning and more typically with their hands and feet.

Exercise helps lessen symptoms of RA and can make you feel better overall. Appropriate and moderate stretching and strengthening will help relieve the pain and keep the muscles and tendons around the affected joint flexible and strong thus preventing further joint damage. Low impact exercises like swimming, walking, water aerobics and stationary bicycling can all reduce pain while maintaining strength, flexibility and cardiovascular function. Check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

There are three types of exercise that are appropriate for RA.

  • Range of motion exercises – moving a joint through its entire range without added weight or resistance helps keep the joints moving.

    A hip swing is a great exercise to increase the range of motion to your hip. Stand on one leg, while holding on to something stable, and rotate your leg in a circular motion from your hip. Repeat this motion 10x clockwise, then 10x counter-clockwise.

  • Strengthening exercises maintain or increase muscle strength.

    A pelvic tilt is a great exercise for increasing the strength of your abdominals and lower back (also called your core). Lie on your back and draw your belly button down to the floor and then arch your lower back. Repeat the “tilting” motion 10x.

  • Endurance exercises strengthen your heart, give you energy and control your weight. These include walking, swimming, cycling, dancing or anything that gets your heart rate elevated for at least 10 minutes at a time. Work on increasing the duration of your exercise over time.
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