Taking a Leap of Faith
Exercising when you're already stiff and sore, not to mention tired -- that's got to be a joke, right? If you're like many women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), getting yourself up to exercise can be difficult -- literally.
But exercising with RA is vital to your health -- and much more likely to make you feel better than worse. It may take a leap of faith to believe that when you're in pain, but it only takes small steps to start feeling the benefits.
How Exercise Helps Rheumatoid Arthritis
Exercise may help reduce joint pain, swelling, and stiffness, and increase muscle strength and flexibility. It also can give you more energy. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking also strengthens your bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. After menopause, all women are at risk for thinning bones, but women with RA are at higher risk. Taking steroids to bring down inflammation boosts that risk.
Aerobic exercise -- the kind that gets your heart pumping faster -- can help you keep your weight under control. It also helps protect against heart disease, another condition where having RA raises your risk. Finally, regular exercise helps you sleep better and helps alleviate the stress and depression that can come with RA.
Getting Motivated to Get Moving
Of course, knowing why you should exercise and doing it are two different things. If we all exercised because we knew it was good for us, we'd be a nation of fitness buffs instead of a country of couch potatoes.
Here's how to be successful at exercise: Start slow and set a goal when you begin. Maybe you want to get in better shape for an upcoming trip. Maybe you want to lose a little weight. Or maybe you want to do something ambitious, like walk a 5K.
Once you have your big goal, set little goals along the way and chart your progress. Reward yourself for meeting them.
Exercise and RA: The First Steps
These strategies will help you get off to a positive start:
Talk to your doctor. Ask your doctor what kind of exercise might be best for you, in light of how you are affected by RA. For example, if you're worried about shoulder joint inflammation, you may want to try walking or bicycling instead of swimming. Your health care provider will also take into account other medical conditions you may have that could affect your ability to exercise.
Be realistic. If you're overwhelmed about where to begin or feel you only have a few minutes a day to exercise, start with five minutes. The next day, try to do a minute more, and so on. On the other hand, if you're raring to go, be careful not to overdo it in the beginning. With exercise, it's less important where you start than where you end up.