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Exercise and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Updated on August 11, 2015

Exercise and Rheumatoid Arthritis:

Disclaimer time…. I am not a doctor or an expert in the field of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was diagnosed with a severe and aggressive form of this disease awhile back and I share my journey with you. You know, lessons learned and all that.

So, I just met with my doctor and she continues to stress the importance of exercise, exercise and more exercise. The last thing you want to do when you have joint pain is exercise, right?


My doctor says that being active is one of the best things I can do to keep my Rheumatoid Arthritis in check. She says that I will have less pain, stronger bones, move better, have more energy and it is good for my heart and other muscles. Having strong bones is important because Rheumatoid Arthritis can thin your bones especially if you are taking certain medications.


YOGA: Let me start off by saying that my doctor is not a big fan of yoga for Rheumatoid Arthritis. When I told her that I was enrolled in a yoga program, she immediately dismissed it. Over time though, I believe that I have convinced her that yoga has been beneficial to me. With that said, don’t go out and sign up for a regular yoga class without first checking with your doctor. The yoga class that I have taken is called Yoga for people with chronic pain and is offered through my HMO. The class is intended for those with limited movement, restricted mobility, and/or difficulties with balance. There are props available to support the body in yoga postures, if needed, and the class moves at a slower pace than the beginner’s yoga class. I enjoy the class because it is relaxing and reduces my stress which in turns helps with flare ups. Additionally, I find that I have better mobility through yoga and my joints do not hurt after the class. If you do not have access to a gentle yoga class in your area, I have found several DVDs for purchase online. “Google” gentle yoga training DVDs and you should be able to locate them. Also, there are several videos online that are short that you can experiment with to see if this is something that you wish to pursue.

WATER ACTIVITIES: Swimming and water aerobatics are great solutions for exercising. I love to “bob” in the water. Just being in water helps my achy joints. I love warm ocean water but alas I live in California and our ocean is not warm. I would love to have a pool in our backyard but that would be a seasonal activity. Therefore, I joined a local gym with a large pool so that I can use it year round.

The advantages to a water exercise program are many. Water is buoyant so it supports your body and your joints don’t have to work as hard. There is a natural resistances created by water when you move your body through it that gives your muscles a good workout. I work out in a heated pool (82 degrees) which helps soothe sore joints. An added plus for me is that I love the water. I love swimming, bobbing, floating, and just being in water so it does not feel like exercise to me.

So, what do I do for exercise in the water? If I feel up to it, I swim laps. I started by swimming just a few laps the first time out and the rest of the time walking in the water. Gradually, I have worked my way up to ½ hour of uninterrupted lap swimming. I do different strokes to distribute the workout areas. I do a modified water aerobics program. I work so my schedule conflicts with a formal water aerobics program at the gym. I took time off from work to attend several water aerobics sessions and now use the techniques and exercises on my own. I also use the stairs in the pool as part of my fitness routine walking up and down them after I swim my laps. They say that water exerts 12 times more resistance than air so walking in water will give you a better workout than walking on land. Walk down the lane of the pool or up and down the steps.

I have been told that the Arthritis Foundation and other such organizations offer aquatic classes specially designed for people with Arthritis but I have not been able to find one offered in my area. This is something I checked into before deciding to pay for a gym membership.


Through my HMO, I go to physical therapy to work on strengthening my back muscles and to address specific joint pain during serious flare ups. I am learning techniques and specific exercises to ease the pain. Discuss physical therapy with your doctor to see if this should be included in your exercise plan.

Alright, one last disclaimer. Before starting any new exercise program, whether it is yoga, water exercises or something else, please ask your doctor if it is safe for you and to see if there is any specific movement or exercise you should avoid.


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