How to Manage Fatigue From Rheumatoid Arthritis
When your rheumatoid arthritis leaves you feeling drained, reboot your energy levels with the right moves. Exercise, healthy food, and good sleep habits are secret weapons in your fight against fatigue.
Move Your Muscles
It might seem counter-intuitive, but regular exercise can help you strike back against extreme tiredness. It makes your muscles stronger, which takes some of the strain off your damaged joints. It also boosts blood flow to your brain, which makes you more alert. And when you're active during the day, it can help you sleep better at night, too, so your body's able to recharge.
Jean Foster, who's had RA for 14 years, learned that lesson firsthand. She does some type of exercise every day. "This does wonders for my energy levels because I sleep better and have less stress," she says. "If I’m tired or stiff, sitting in the same position makes it worse."
Walking, cycling, and swimming are activities that get your heart pumping but are easy on your joints. In one study from the University of California, San Francisco, people with RA who wore pedometers and kept track of how many steps they took every day had less fatigue than those who didn't.
Foster tries to be smart about the other workouts she does, too. "If I run, I go on trails so that my joints have a softer impact," says the 32-year-old resident of Boulder, CO. "If I do yoga and certain joints hurt, I modify my poses."
Take Breaks When You Need Them
If you do too much exercise or do it too intensely, it can sometimes backfire. It could leave you more tired than when you started. And if you're in the middle of an RA flare-up, even normal activities may be too much for your body to handle.
"There are enormous benefits to what I would call common sense," says Susan Goodman, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Cornell Medical School. "If you're exhausted just doing the housework, get someone to help. If you're feeling really run down, take a nap or a day off of work."
You can also use devices to help you get around more easily, like a walking cane or a brace, which take stress off your joints and may help you feel less worn-out.