While physical activity is important for everyone, you have extra reason to get and stay active if you have RA. Regular exercise can help you build strong muscles, improve or maintain flexibility, and preserve mobility. It can also help you reduce stress, sleep better, boost your mood, relieve pain, and lose weight, which helps take stress off painful joints.
Even when your joints are swollen and painful, you can still do gentle range-of-motion exercises, which take joints through their full range of movement. Warm-water exercise may also be a good choice during an RA flare.
When your disease becomes less active, you can do more, including exercises to build muscle strength and improve cardiovascular fitness. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or occupational therapist about the best and safest exercises for you.
Get Plenty of Rest, but Don't Stay in Bed
Though exercise is important when you have RA, it's crucial that you balance activity with rest. Rest is especially important when your disease is active. It helps reduce joint inflammation, ease pain, and fight fatigue.
How long should you rest? It's different for each person. In general, it's better to take short rest breaks during the day than to stay in bed all day.
If joint pain makes it difficult to get the sleep you need at night, try taking a warm bath before bedtime. And ask your doctor about medications that can help you manage nighttime pain.
Protect Your Joints
Even when you can't lie down and rest your whole body, you can rest and protect certain joints. Immobilizing a sore joint with a splint allows it to rest and may help reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you choose a splint and make sure that it fits properly.
Walking aids and self-help devices can also help you rest and protect sore joints. Canes and walkers reduce stress on painful knees and hips. Zipper pulls, long-handled shoe horns, and reachers make it easier to do daily activities without putting unnecessary stress on painful joints.
Get Emotional Support for Your RA
Coping with a chronic disease is never easy. Living with RA can be particularly difficult because it’s painful and highly unpredictable. You may feel fairly good one day and barely able to get out of bed the next. Joint pain and fatigue may make it hard to do some of the things you love.
It's understandable that you may feel down sometimes. But if these feelings are severe or long-lasting, ask for help.
Ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health professional who specializes in working with people with arthritis or other chronic diseases. Counseling may help you develop the skills to cope better. Attending a support group, such as those offered by the Arthritis Foundation, may also help you feel better.
If you have feelings of depression, let your doctor know. Having a chronic illness increases your risk of depression. Some people find that treatments such as psychotherapy or medication improve their mood and sense of well-being so they are better able to cope with their disease.