Forty to 80 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) cite fatigue as their most debilitating symptom, according to research published in the Israel Medical Association Journal in 2014. That, coupled with joint pain and other symptoms of RA, can be a big barrier to getting regular exercise. Decreased activity levels in people with rheumatoid arthritis actually results in reduced muscle strength and ultimately can lead to increased arthritis pain and disability. It becomes a vicious cycle. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regular exercise can actually help ease the symptoms of RA. Researchers found that people who exercise have improved daily function, decreased depression and fatigue, reduced pain, and improved sleep. Instead of using RA as an excuse not to exercise, make it the reason you do.
- Walking – It’s free, easy, you can do it almost anywhere, plus it’s gentle on joint pain. Walking is not only good for people with rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s great for heart health, which is especially important for people with rheumatoid arthritis as RA increases the risk for heart disease.
- Swimming - Water is a great place to stretch your muscles and soothe your joints, so hit the pool for an aerobic workout. Swim laps or try a water aerobics class. Swimming also helps control weight, boost mood, and improve sleep, and it’s good for overall health.
- Weights - The stronger your muscles are, the less strain there is on your joints. Use weights to get stronger and boost muscle mass. Experiment with weight machines, free weights, and resistance bands. Start slowly and increase your intensity gradually.
- Cycling – Particularly for people with arthritis, the smooth motion of cycling minimizes the jarring motion of traditional jogging. Try a slow paced spin class at a local gym if you’re not into biking in traffic. Biking is a great total body conditioner as well.
- Yoga – When a joint and its surrounding muscles are affected by arthritis, the result is often impaired coordination, position awareness, balance, and an increased risk of falling, which is why people complain of their ‘knees giving out’ with activity. Yoga and tai chi are good exercises to improve body awareness, which can increase coordination and balance. Plus, they include flexibility and range-of-motion moves, which boost joint flexibility and joint function, according to the American College of Rheumatology.