Why is RA and Exercise Such a Sore Subject?

Friday, May 22, 2015

If you're someone who battles chronic pain day after day then exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. But, for people with arthritis, daily exercise is essential and can even be life changing. Research shows that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day has many benefits including:

  • Maintain range of motion in joints
  • Avoid stiffness
  • Improves circulation
  • Strengthens the structures that surround and protect your joints
  • Better pain management
  • Stronger bones - protection against osteoporosis
  • Helps prevent injury
  • Helps maintain a healthy weight
  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases energy
  • Better breathing
  • Improves self-esteem and confidence

RA and exercise is a sore subject

Most Rheumatologists and health care providers will recommend arthritis patients stay physically active. In fact, The American College of Rheumatology reports that physically active individuals are healthier, happier and live longer than those who are inactive and unfit. This is especially true for people with arthritis. Yet, arthritis is one of the most common reasons people give for not exercising or participating in recreational activities.

So what exercises are helpful and safe?

Always start by consulting your doctor. Ask about limitations and restrictions. Regardless of the level of disease activity you have, it's always important to protect your joint from anything that causes stress or pain. Ask your doctor for guidance in choosing a level of exercise that you will benefit from - therapeutic/ rehabilitative, recreational or competitive. Fitness is not one-size-fits-all. Find your unique fit formula, one that will protect and strengthen your body and not cause harm.

Once you have the green light, ease into your fitness routine but aim to work up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day if you're able. Finding that 30 minutes is a challenge, and when you're new to fitness it's inconvenient and uncomfortable. But so is living with arthritis.
If you believe you can find relief through physical activity and you want to exercise more than any reason that's stopping you, then you are already winning. You are making a decision to control the disease so that it does not control you. 
Follow your unique fitness formula and you'll become stronger, healthier and happier each and every day.

Tips for making exercise doable

Start slowly
Aim for progress, not perfection. At first you may not have the energy to workout for 30 minutes. Only you will know when you've reached your limit. Listen to your body. The "No Pain No Gain" rule DOES NOT apply to people who suffer from chronic pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Signs of pain and swelling are your body's way of telling you to stop. But get back to your schedule as soon as you're up to it and try to increase the length of your workout each session. If you're consistent with your fitness and committed to becoming well you can achieve it

Make it convenient
Going to a gym often requires a lot more time. And leaving the comfort of your home when it's cold or rainy to drive to your local gym is not pleasant. So choose a fitness plan that is easily accessible for you. For most of us it's pretty easy to walk out the front door and take a stroll. Maybe you have a pool or have access to one in your neighborhood. Both are great choices for getting back on your feet. Try an in-home fitness program such as Beachbody's PiYo or 21 Day Fix. Both offer short 30 minute workouts that are easy enough for beginners. Beachbody instructors always show you modified versions of the exercises for people who are just starting out or who may have limitations.

Find something that you enjoy
If you're going to commit to fitness on a daily basis it might as well be something that you like. You do not have to spend your life in a gym, or spend a ton of money on expensive equipment and you certainly do not have to beat yourself up to get fit. There are lots of options that allow you to get fit using only your body weight. Yoga and Pilates are wonderful fitness programs for people with arthritis. What's that?... You hate yoga because it's slow and boring? Try different music, pick a playlist that makes you want to move. There's no law that says you can't do yoga to ACDC!

Find a coach
Really anyone who can help you stay motivated and keep on track. It can be a professional trainer, fitness coach or physical/ occupational therapist; or just a friend, neighbor or co-worker. A coach's job is to keep you accountable, motivated and be there to celebrate your successes.

Have options
Mix up your fitness routine. Try different types of activities that target different parts of your body. Alternate your workouts between cardio, strength training, stretching and flexibility. Try creating different playlists and use the music to set the pace for your workout. This will help you to not get bored with your routine and to give you plenty of choices to suit your schedule.

Find a partner
Recruiting a family member or a friend to exercise with you can help to pass the time and keep you motivated. Studies show that people who exercise consistently with a buddy lose more weight and have longer lasting results than those who work out alone.

Don't overdo it
Listen to your body. Slow down or stop if you feel your body needs to recover. Just get back into your routine as soon as you feel up to it. The longer you stick to your fitness plan the better and stronger you will feel. If you've had to take some time off you can look to your coach or workout buddy for support to help you get up and at it again. Just don't give up. Stay focused on your goal. Once you find a fitness program that you like and you stick with it, you will become stronger, gain energy and suffer less pain.

Feeling overwhelmed?

I know exactly how you feel. Four years ago when I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis I was overwhelmed with information. Dr. Google provided lots of good advice but none of it could take the pain away or give me the energy I needed to go about my day. I spent many months lying on the couch motionless and in pain. It was important to me to be an active participant in my care and I was fortunate to be in the care of some very good doctors who helped me to develop a plan to become well. Managing RA is a lifetime commitment that, for me, includes medication, nutrition and fitness. What worked for me is not the answer for everyone. But I hope that by creating awareness I will inspire others to seek out their unique wellness plan.

Beachbody fitness programs are the tool that I used to get started with fitness.
The programs are very different from other exercise dvds because they offer a complete wellness system that includes a nutritional guide, free personal coaching and an online community of support to help you reach your goals. Many of their programs offer low impact, low intensity workouts that are suited for people with exercise limitations. You exercise at your own pace, in the privacy of your own home and most workouts take only 30 minutes to complete. If you would like to learn more about Beachbody's fitness programs or how I can help you as a coach please fill out the form below.

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