Four Steps for Rheumatoid Arthritis Exercise Success
Developed with the assistance of Marian A. Minor, PT, PhD
For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), staying active is key to maintaining overall health. Along with medical treatment, staying active can help reduce the pain, stiffness, and fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis.
Making regular exercise a habit is not easy, whether you have rheumatoid arthritis or not. Many people start with expectations that are too high, then quickly get discouraged and give up. Be careful not to do too much too fast or attempt exercises that are too difficult. Respect your pain. If you have increased joint or muscle pain for two or more hours after exercising, you have done too much. Please consult your physician.
When you are first starting out, talk to your doctor or nurse to find out what type of exercise is best for you. Then follow our 4 steps for RA exercise success.
Step 1: Think about which activities you enjoy
Think about your life before rheumatoid arthritis. What kinds of physical activity did you enjoy? You may have liked a sport, walking with a friend or the dog, taking a dance class, doing yard work, or even volunteering for a job where you engaged in some form of physical activity. See if you can make your new RA fitness plan with My RA Fit Kit.
Step 2: Make an RA fitness plan that makes sense for your life
Think about how you can work exercise into your daily routine. Big plans to "turn over a new leaf" are often too much of a change to keep up. Explore the My RA Fit Kit to build a free, personalized RA fitness plan.
Step 3: Make sure you really believe you can do it
When you start to exercise, it's important to work hard towards your goals. However, this doesn't mean reaching all of them at once, right when you start. Exercising regularly and sticking with your plan can help you improve your overall health—and take you one step closer to becoming a successful lifelong exerciser.
Step 4: Use the 0 to 10 confidence scale for RA fitness success
Ask yourself how sure you are that you can do your plan. On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning you're very confident that you can complete your plan, how does your plan rate? You should strive to rate your plan at least an 8 on this scale. If you are less confident, rework your RA fitness plan with My RA Fit Kit to make it less difficult.
For example, the goal of going to the gym for 1 hour before work every day may rate about a 2 on your confidence scale. This means you are not very confident that you will follow through with the plan. Instead, change your plan to 5 minutes of stretching and a 10-minute walk at home in the morning 3 days each week, and this plan may rate much higher.
If your new routine turns out to be an 8 on your confidence scale, you're good to go. Try it for a few weeks and see how you do. You may be confident enough to add more exercise, or you may be right where you need to be for now.
Note: These tips should not replace advice from your physician. Always check with your physician before making any changes to your exercise habits.
- UCB and The Cooper Institute. My RA Fit Kit Web site. . Accessed June 6, 2011.
- Metsios GS, Stavropoulos-Kalinoglou A, Veldhuijzen van Zanten JJCS, et al. Rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and physical exercise: a systematic review. Rheumatology. 2008;47:239-248.