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Stress and RA: How to Stay in Control

What To Do, a Patient's View

Hilary Wilson says exercise is a crucial part of her feel-good plan. Knowing what kind of exerciser you are can make it easier to keep moving, she tells WebMD.

"I tend to be a social exerciser, so I always have someone I feel accountable to."  She walks with a friend and takes yoga as a group class.

Attitude is everything, she says, and she tries to stay positive.

Getting proper treatment makes a huge difference. She's been on a biologic, a newer type of medication option, since 1999.

Things weren't so rosy in the beginning. "I was told when I was diagnosed I'd be in a wheelchair in three years," she says. "I fired that doctor."

The Benefit of Exercise

Zashin advises his patients that they can reduce stress, and one way to do it is through regular exercise.

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce whole-body inflammation, a good thing for everyone. In a recent study, researchers found that 16 weeks of regular exercise in young women, 18 to 30, reduced their levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. They were studying how regular exercise might protect against breast cancer risk, but reduced inflammation is a healthy improvement for many reasons. The study is in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

Of course, getting on the right medication can help control symptoms, White says. But that's not the whole story. She tells her RA patients: "You need to move, strengthen your joints, eat a good diet, and keep your weight down."

What to Do At Work

Although it's easier said than done, try to make your day simpler, Zashin says. Especially if you are hurting, don't volunteer for on-the-job tasks you can skip--at least this time around.

Ask for accommodations you may need on the job, White says. She's talking about measures such as asking for a stool to sit on periodically if you're on your feet constantly. If you're a nonstop typist, ask for an ergonomically friendly keyboard and a supportive chair.

Touch typists -- who rarely if ever look at the keyboard -- should know they have a tendency to change their typing style if they have joint damage, according to Nancy Baker, ScD, MPH, an occupational therapist and associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She reported the findings in November 2010 at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology in Atlanta.

In her study of 33 typists, the 22 who had visual structural deformities of the hands from RA kept their fingers straight, for instance, not curved. ''It puts more stress on the joints when you do that," she says.

Besides being aware of good typing technique, what else should you do? "Find good voice recognition software if it's feasible for your job," she says.

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