Starting exercising with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be challenging and scary. But there are great benefits!
NOTE: If you are not currently exercising, be sure to consult your doctor before starting a workout regimen. It may also be useful to speak with a physical therapist who could suggest specific activities to improve strength, flexibility, and range of motion.
The fear of exercising with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
As with any exercise routine, it is always important to listen to your body and stay within appropriate levels of exertion. Many people with RA worry that exercise will make their pain and symptoms worse. However, these fears are not supported by clinical research on the impact of exercising.
A study by Van Den Ende, C. H. M., et. al, evaluated six trials that met exercise thresholds. All studies looked at by the program had to:
- be of such an intensity that heart rates exceeded 60% of maximal heart rate during at least 20 minutes of exercise
- exercise 2 or more times each week
- last at least 6 weeks
In none of the studies examined did dynamic exercising cause detrimental effects on pain or any any of the other indices of disease. The authors of the study noted that, “the consistency among the studies about the safety of dynamic exercises … [was] striking.” Based on these findings, the authors concluded that there is no harm for people with RA to engage in vigorous exercise during a short period lasting 12 weeks.
The article did reference previous studies that have found that vigorous exercise against resistance is not recommended for people with RA. The use of resistance in training may induce pain and augment the inflammation of joints.
The benefits of exercising with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Exercising should be an important part of life for all people. Many of the benefits are universal, but some are particularly important for people with rheumatoid arthritis. The benefits of exercising include:
- less pain
- decreased fatigue
- having more energy
- stronger bones and muscles
- healthier heart and muscles
- improved mental health
A study by Neuberger, G. B., et al. explored the benefits of low-impact aerobic exercise on people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The average age of participants in the study was 55 years old, with the average duration of RA was 9.8 years. Just like the study above, the exercise examined did not lead to an increase in disease symptoms. The study was, however, the first study to show a clinically significant decrease in self-reported fatigue following the exercise interventions. This study, and five others referenced, also showed decreased pain among those people that made exercising part of their routine.
So what are you waiting for? Listen to your body and come up with an exercise plan to help your life with RA.