8 Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Keep Moving to Ease Pain and StiffnessWhen you have rheumatoid arthritis symptoms like pain, stiffness and fatigue, even the thought of exercising might make you cringe. But exercise could be just what you need to feel better. If you have actively inflamed joints, you do need to rest them. But once your doctor says it's okay, it's best to start moving. Research shows that regular exercise can help relieve pain and stiffness and improve your energy level. Here are some suggestions to discuss with your medical team.
- 1. Physical TherapyIf you've recently been diagnosed with RA or have some limitations, physical therapy may be the best place to start your exercise program. A physical therapist (PT) is a professional who can evaluate your exercise needs and show you safe ways to get started. A PT can help you with range of motion exercises and use techniques, like electrical stimulation or deep heat, to get your muscles and joints in shape for exercise.
- 2. Tai ChiStretching and range of motion exercises are good for RA. Studies have found that tai chi, a gentle form of exercise used for centuries as part of traditional Chinese medicine, is beneficial for many people with RA. It combines range of motion, stretching, balance, flexibility, deep breathing, and meditation. Tai chi is usually taught in hour-long group classes, and then you can practice the exercises on your own at home.
- 3. Weight TrainingYour first reaction might be to shy away from working with weights, but research shows that strength training is great for people with RA because it can help reduce pain and stiffness. Just make sure to get clearance from your doctor and work with a good instructor. You can train with handheld weights or weight machines, and you don't need to lift heavy amounts. For this type of exercise, repetition is more important than the weight.
- 4. WalkingIn addition to working on range of motion, stretching, and strength training, aerobic activity is another important exercise component for people with RA. Aerobic exercises are activities that get your large muscles moving in a rhythmic and repetitive way. There are plenty of good choices out there—just be sure to avoid high-impact activities, like jogging. The best way to get started is just to walk. Try to work your way up to 30 minutes or an hour of walking every day.
- 5. Swimming or Walking in WaterSwimming (or walking) in the pool is a great combination of range of motion, low-impact, and aerobic exercise. Water supports your weight, which cuts down on joint stress. It also increases resistance, so walking in the water is better exercise than walking on land. And working out in an indoor pool means you'll stay comfortable when it's too hot or too cold to exercise outdoors.
- 6. BikingBiking is a great low-impact aerobic exercise that can be done indoors or outdoors. If you have balance problems, as some people with RA do, a stationary bike is a more stable option. You don't need to turn or worry about cars and other road hazards, so the risk of injury is low. As with other forms of aerobic exercise, the goal is to start slowly and work your way up to 30 to 60 minutes a day.
- 7. YogaA published study performed at Johns Hopkins Medical School found that people who took an eight-week yoga class and learned to practice yoga at home, significantly reduced their RA symptoms compared to people with RA who did not take the class. Yoga is an ancient form of exercise that combines poses, stretching, breathing, and meditation (great for easing stress). Traditional yoga poses can be adapted for people with RA.
- 8. Exercise VideosA safe way to exercise at home is to follow along with a video. The Arthritis Foundation has a 60-minute video called Take Control with Exercise, created especially for people with arthritis. The organization also offers online exercise videos for stretching and flexibility. You can find these on the Arthritis Foundation website at http://www.arthritistoday.org/fitness/exercise-videos-and-photos/stretching-exercises/index.php.
8 Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis