When Melinda Winner was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), she was overwhelmed by depression.
“I laid around the house eating,” says Winner, now the author of A Complete Guide to Living with Arthritis. “The more I laid, the more depressed I became, and the bigger I became, and with the weight and lack of movement came more pain.”
When rheumatoid arthritis flares up, it makes joints feel stiff and achy. That discomfort may go away at times, but there may still be permanent damage. Eventually rheumatoid arthritis can harm joints so they don't work as well even when the disease itself is not active. How does joint damage occur, and how can it be prevented?
Periods of active inflammation are called high disease activity. When joints are inflamed, white blood cells enter the joint space.
Inside the joint, these white blood cells...
In a little over a year, Winner gained 100 pounds, weight she kept on for the next three years. Then one day, her 3-year-old kept begging her to get down on the floor and play cars. “I knew if I got down there, getting back up was not an option,” she says. “As I sat there having a huge pity party, I knew it was move or die. That very day I began to walk very slowly. Maybe it was only 50 feet that first day, but I was determined to change my life, and every day I walked a few steps farther.”
As she got stronger, Winner, who couldn’t afford a gym membership or YMCA pass, devised her own exercise program that involved everything from water exercises in the bathtub to home resistance training. “The more I move, the better I feel,” she says.
As Winner discovered, if you have RA, exercise isn’t just about looking good in a cocktail dress or taking off baby weight. It can reduce your pain and help you function better as you do all the million tasks your household requires each day. Plus, it can just plain make you feel better, which is invaluable when a chronic disease like RA is dragging you down. Exercise can also help reduce your risk of osteoporosis, which is a big issue for women with RA, especially if you’re taking steroids to fight inflammation.
Keri Cawthorne is a personal trainer so when she developed RA a year ago, fitness was already an enormous part of her life. But she found that she had to modify her routine because arthritis can make some moves challenging.
Functional Fitness for RA
“I’m focused a lot on functional fitness,” Cawthorne says. That means exercise that strengthens the body to do real-life work in real-life ways, rather than just lifting certain weights on the machines you use at the gym. Functional exercise uses multiple muscles at once, helping them work together in harmony. Balance is at the heart of functional fitness.