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How Exercise Works for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your body, even if you have RA.

The benefits include:

Recommended Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

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  • Better flexibility. Although it may seem more comfortable now to sit on the sidelines, moving your joints helps relieve stiffness and keeps them flexible.
  • Stronger muscles. Exercise strengthens muscles, and strong muscles better support and protect your joints.
  • Denser bones. Arthritis-related inflammation, and some of the drugs that treat it, can make your bones more fragile and more likely to break. Exercise boosts bone density, which could mean fewer fractures.
  • A healthier heart. Exercise is good for everyone's heart. If you have RA, that's especially important, since RA makes you more likely to get heart disease.
  • You feel better. Exercise boosts your mood, gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, and can make you feel better about yourself. If you work out with a friend, it's also an opportunity to socialize.

Exercise and RA

If you're not active now, check with your doctor to see if you have any limitations. Once you get the green light, think about ways you can make these four types of exercise a habit:

Flexibility: Gentle flexibility exercises help your joints work normally. It can also be relaxing. You should do gentle flexibility exercises every day. Listen to your body, and never stretch to the point of pain.

Strengthening: Use weights, resistance bands, or your own body weight to make your muscles work harder. Stronger muscles are are better able to support your joints.

To improve strength, you should gradually increase the amount or form of resistance. Do strengthening exercises every other day. Working with a physical therapist or trainer can help you get started.

Aerobic: Anything that gets your heart rate up -- such as walking, dancing, bicycling, swimming, running, or rowing -- counts as aerobic exercise. It's good for your heart, lungs, weight, and bones. It can also be a good way to release stress and improve your mood. Get some aerobic exercise most days of the week, working up to 30 minutes each session.

Body awareness: Body awareness exercises, such as tai chi and yoga, work on posture, balance, coordination, and relaxation.

As you get into your exercise program, these two strategies should help you:

  1. Set goals. Break big goals down to smaller ones. Reward yourself for meeting them.
  2. Make it fun. Choose enjoyable activities that you can fit into your daily routine, such as going for a walk or meeting a friend for water aerobics.  

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on March 13, 2013

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