In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask our experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics. In our October 2010 issue, we asked WebMD's health expert Brunilda Nazario, MD, just why and how exercise is good for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
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Q : I have rheumatoid arthritis and want to minimize joint stiffness as much as possible. I know I should exercise, but won't that hurt my joints?
A: Exercise might seem counterintuitive, but inactivity further decreases joint motion and flexibility and can lead to weak muscles and deformed joints. Regular exercise helps reverse joint stiffness, builds muscle, and boosts overall fitness. Talk to your doctor before you begin any activity, but here are some pointers:
Choose low-impact aerobics such as swimming, walking, and cardio machines like the elliptical trainer. Start by exercising a few minutes a day, adding more time as you can. Eventually you should build up to 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week.
Include resistance exercises two to three times a week to improve muscle strength and mobility and decrease joint pain. Stronger muscles decrease pain by better supporting the joints. Use elastic bands, free weights, or machines for resistance.
Regular stretching is important to increase flexibility and restore joint motion. Hold stretches for 30 seconds each without bouncing.