Starting an Exercise Program with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Picture of woman applying cream to wrist.
If you have RA, exercising should be a top priority.. George D./Getty Images

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an auto-immune disease that attacks the synovial lining of your joints.  It can lead to joint stiffness and pain, joint deformity, and significant functional mobility limitations.  Exercise has been shown to be effective in managing many of the symptoms of RA, and it can help you maintain maximal mobility while limiting joint damage.

If you are new to exercise, you may be anxious about starting a fitness program, especially with a diagnosis of RA.

 Starting an exercise program if you have RA can be a difficult task.  You may be feeling like moving around is difficult or may cause harm to your joints or muscles.  But exercise can help maintain or improve your joint range of motion, muscular strength, and overall endurance.  An added bonus of exercise for people with RA is that it can help boost your mood and fight depression.

Starting an RA Exercise Program

Some ideas to get started with a exercise program if you have RA include:

  • Start slow, and allow your body time to adjust to new activities and movements.  Build in adequate rest periods into your fitness routine so you do not overwork your joints.
  • Set exercise and fitness goals, and break those goals down into manageable short term goals.
  • Reward yourself when you reach an exercise goal.
  • Find a workout buddy who can help motivate you to maintain an exercise program.  Your workout buddy can keep you accountable for your exercise routine.
  • Keep a daily workout log to monitor your progress as you get your exercise program started.
  • If one of your joints is experiencing a flare up, make sure your rest and protect it to prevent joint damage.

Remember that exercise is a controlled physical stress to your body.  If you have RA, your body and joints may not be able to handle too much stress.

 Overloading your joints may cause damage, increased pain, or decreased mobility.  Keep you exercise intensity moderate and avoid high impact activities like running or jogging.

Before starting an exercise program, you should visit with your doctor to ensure that exercise is appropriate and safe for your specific condition.  A course of physical therapy may be beneficial to develop the right exercise program tailored to your needs.

Rheumatoid arthritis can make performing basic tasks difficult.  If you have RA and are not exercising, you should start to help manage your symptoms and to help prevent future joint deformity and damage.  By starting slow and staying motivated, you can be sure to maintain your full mobility while exercising.

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