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Rheumatoid Arthritis: Your 6-Week Exercise Plan for RA

Exercise and RA: The First Steps continued...

Make it convenient. If getting to a gym is a hassle or too time consuming, try exercising at home or in your neighborhood. But if you like the energy of a gym, try to find one that's not off your beaten path. Passing the gym every day on your way to or from work can make it easier to stop in.

Get help to get going. If possible, start off with the help of a physical or occupational therapist, or a trainer who has experience with arthritis, rather than just diving into exercise on your own. They can get you started and teach you how to gauge your body's response so that you don't overdo it, end up in pain, and get discouraged. 

What's the Best Exercise?

The best exercise is one that you'll actually do, so pick something that you like or would like to try, as long as it won't aggravate your affected joints. Ideally your exercise program includes these three components:

  • Low- to medium-impact aerobics. Swimming, bicycling, walking, aerobic dance, warm-water exercise, and exercising with elliptical trainers help give you stamina and energy.
  • Strength training. Lift light weights (1-2 pounds) or use a resistance band to build or maintain muscle mass and strength to keep your joints stable.
  • Flexibility exercises. Range-of-motion (moving your joints) and stretching exercises help reduce stiffness and maintain or improve joint and muscle flexibility to prevent injury.

To get the most from your exercise routine, you'll want to incorporate all three -- but if you're just starting out, you may want to get one kind of exercise (like walking or biking) down before you add more. Whatever exercise you do, make sure to warm up first and stretch afterward.

If you're new to exercise, you might try starting with a warm-water aerobic exercise class. The water can soothe sore joints and helps support your weight. 

It's important to be consistent. Build up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, five times a week. You can exercise in three 10-minute sessions if that's easier. Do flexibility exercises every day and follow them with strengthening exercises every other day. It's OK to rest if you have joint pain or fatigue. Avoid exercise that includes rapid or repetitive use of affected joints.

Walking: Set a Timeline

Walking is one of the easiest exercises to do -- all you need is a pair of good, supportive shoes. If you're wondering how to get started, check out the Arthritis Foundation's 12-Week Walking Plan that has weekly timelines for beginning, intermediate, and advanced walkers. For example, beginners start the plan with five minutes of exercise three days the first week, go up to seven minutes the next week, and up to 10 minutes four days a week by the end of week four. Even at this moderate pace, you can build up to 35 minutes by the end of 12 weeks. Find more information on the Arthritis Foundation web site.

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