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8 tips to beat RA with exercise

written by Vidya Sury December 19, 2010

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Stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercises are all important for managing your RA. Learn why, and get tips for creating a workout program that’s right for you.

Getting plenty of exercise is an important part of coping with rheumatoid arthritis. It can help alleviate joint pain and stiffness, make you more flexible, improve your sleep, and boost your endurance. An exercise program should include stretching, aerobic exercises, and strengthening routines.

picture courtesy healthy exercise world

Here are the 8 tips that can help you feel better!

Start Stretching

People with rheumatoid arthritis can take different approaches to stretching.  You might stretch before exercise or physical activity to prepare your muscles and joints for the activity. For example, if you’re going to garden, you might want to stretch your hips, knees, and ankles. Or you might stretch after your exercises to prevent stiffness, or if you have particular joints that get stiff or have limited motion, you might want to add something to your regular exercise routine that works on those.

Try Tai Chi

A Tai chi program can improve people’s quality of life, mobility, and sense of relaxation. Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that features sets of slow, flowing movements. The practice emphasizes physical motion, mental focus, and regular breathing. Many practitioners do it to relieve stiffness and improve their strength and balance.

Do Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise

The best forms of exercise for people with rheumatoid arthritis are those that put minimal impact on affected joints. These include low-impact aerobic dance, water exercises, walking, or stationary bicycles. Keep in mind that activities with sudden stops and changes of direction, like soccer or basketball, might be inappropriate. However, if you don’t have problems with your knees, ankles, and hips, jogging may be okay for you.

Get Ready for Resistance Exercises

For strengthening your muscles, you can choose from a variety of resistance tools, including elastic bands, free weights, and machines. Some exercises may be better than others, given your particular needs. Free weights may be better than machines since they don’t force the joint into a specific predetermined movement pattern. However, if you have wrist involvement as part of your rheumatoid arthritis, holding a dumbbell might cause pain.

Take Up Swimming

Swimming is particularly good for people with rheumatoid arthritis since the water supports your body, thus limiting the amount of stress on your joints. In addition to swimming, another good water exercise is walking in a pool; the effort to move yourself through the water while walking makes your muscles stronger. You can walk in water that’s up to your waist or chest or put on a flotation belt and walk in deeper water.

Add Weight-Bearing Exercises

People with rheumatoid arthritis face a higher risk of the bone-thinning condition osteoporosis due to the arthritis itself, medications used to treat it, or reduced physical activity. Weight-bearing exercises are helpful for preserving your bones. Walking is a good type of weight-bearing exercise.

Get the Right Intensity

If you’re unfamiliar with exercise or you want to drastically shake up your workout, it’s a good idea to meet with a trainer or physical therapist with experience helping people with rheumatoid arthritis. It’s particularly important for people with rheumatoid arthritis to avoid exercising too hard, and a professional can help you aim for the right duration and level of intensity.

Seek Variety

Rheumatoid arthritis tends to ebb and flow, and people with the condition have good days and painful days. Practice a variety of exercises to help ensure that you’ll always have a type of physical activity to enjoy. If you usually walk, but you’re having a flare in your knees or ankles, perhaps swimming for a while will allow you to stay active without pain.

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