Exercising With Rheumatoid Arthritis Is Not A Walk In The Park (2023)

Eight years ago I wasdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a condition that initially left me depressed. Through self-management and dedication to exercise, I have been able to live an active life and manage my illness effectively.

Regular exercise is key to treating rheumatoid arthritis because it reduces inflammation and pain while improving overall health and well-being. Balancing exercise and rest can be challenging, but with proper guidance and education, strength training can be safe and beneficial for people with RA.

Find the right help

As a member of the Arthritis Research Canada advisory board since September 2018, I participated in a study that piqued my interest as someone living with rheumatoid arthritis. The study, the callPRINCIPLES: Improving resistance training and adaptation among people with rheumatoid arthritis, was conducted by Arthritis Research Canada and the University of British Columbia, under the direction of Dr. Jasmin Ma (kinesiologist). Its purpose was to address why 86 percent of people with RA do not strength train and how exercise professionals can best help RA patients with a personalized strength training prescription.

As I approach my fifth year with this association, I have presented at conferences, webinars, and even hosted an arthritis exercise class with Jasmin. I think this is a perfect example of effective patient involvement in research and development of programs to help patients live healthier lives. Thanks to this association, I learned a lot and gained confidence to exercise with this disease.

However, it wasn't just this research that helped me learn to be physically active with this disease. I am grateful for the instructions on how to exercise safely that I have received from qualified physical therapists and kinesiologists who studyexercise and arthritis.

Despite my positive experiences, I have hired personal trainers or gone to the nearest physiotherapy clinic only to feel like I am not getting the proper advice I need for my needs as someone living with inflammatory arthritis. In my experience, unless they have experience treating arthritis, many exercise professionals do not properly understand RA.

(Video) Morning exercises tips for Rheumatoid Arthritis!

My advice to patients is to ask your rheumatologist if they know a physical therapist with extensive knowledge of inflammatory arthritis.

Unique Barriers to Exercising with Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are unique barriers to exercise with rheumatoid arthritis, including:

  • Anxiety
  • cognitive dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • arm pain and strength
  • infections
  • Time to take the medicine
  • mobility problems
  • He was
  • doloromnia
  • Surgical interventions

It took me a while to figure out how to exercise my AR without making things worse. it's exercisedifferent for everyone. I learned to listen to my body and to rest when I needed it. Teaming up with a physical therapist and a personal trainer has really helped me learn how to exercise safely and in a way that helps me feel better.

I am still figuring out how to treat my RA, but am very grateful for the support of my doctor, physical therapist, and personal trainer. They helped me find the right exercises for me and made a huge difference in how I felt.

My personal obstacles to exercise

For me, my biggest obstacles aredepressionifatigue. Both are incredibly common in people with inflammatory arthritis.

Tiredness saps my energy, making tasks like showering, washing dishes, laundry, preparing food, physically and emotionally exhausting me. Tiredness weighs me down.

Depression can greatly reduce the ability to experience pleasure and joy in simple daily activities, making things seem like a daunting task. This disease can affect my confidence and my motivation to exercise.

(Video) 10-Year Old Rheumatoid Arthritis Gone in 3 Months | Satvic Movement

Regular exercise can significantly help with these emotions, but getting started is actually the hardest part other than staying consistent.

How do I get over this and move on?

  • Medicines
  • Therapy
  • Know how I will feel after exercising
  • I do things that I enjoy like painting, gardening, writing and spending time in nature.
  • Volunteer and be an active patient advocate

What I learned about exercise.

Without a doubt, exercise is beneficial for many people, and for those living with rheumatoid arthritis, it is essential.

Exercise can improve many aspects of living with RA:

  • Helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces the load on the joints.
  • improving balance
  • corrects posture
  • Improve mental health and cognitive health
  • Pain Reduction: Reduces inflammation and joint stiffness.
  • Prevents sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass and strength that is common in patients with RA
  • Reduces the risk of comorbidities, especially cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death in patients with RA
  • improve sleep
  • improve stamina
  • Supports the most effective action of drugs.

Make the exercise consistent

Consistency can be hard when you're living with a bumpchronic disease. I often feel like I have to go through times where I have to pick myself up and start over because my illness got in the way. I can experience a lot of guilt and negative emotions when this happens, but it's important to pull myself together and not let these negative emotions get the better of me.

There are events that prevent me from exercising that are out of my control. This includes surgeries, tests, infusions, my menstrual cycle, or infections.

stay motivated

Figuring out ways to stay motivated and develop healthy habits is key to overcoming this hurdle. As for me, being an active patient partner in research and advocacy keeps me motivated. Working with physiotherapists and kinesiologists, exercising with a friend (my son), enjoying uplifting music or rewarding myself with a sauna session helps me move.

(Video) Yoga for Rheumatoid Arthritis (Practical Session)

Sruining my exercise routine tooincrease my motivation, especially outdoor activities such as hiking, swimming or cycling. The warmer months inspire me to be more active. Conversely, the winter months can be exhausting and challenging to stay motivated.

Regular intake of vitamin D can significantly help with increased fatigue during the winter, and using a sauna can provide warmth. Vitamin D deficiency is common among people with RA.

Know the right time to exercise

Finding ways to add exercise to my day is just as effective as following a strict fitness program every day. On busy days or days with a lot of fatigue, I try to add small amounts of exercise throughout the day. If I have a physically demanding task that day, like mowing the lawn or deep cleaning the house, I count it as my exercise instead of my normal routine.

I find this approach helpful in treating RA, especially for those who have sedentary jobs that require extensive sitting. Helps relieve pain and gradually strengthens over time without too much pressure.

I prefer to exercise in the morning when I have more energy or during the day while I work on the computer. I'm not a big fan of evening workouts because around 5 or 6 PM I turn into an arthritic pumpkin, especially in winter. However, regular exercise helps me reduce my arthritis symptoms during these periods.

know whenYeahpractice

I follow my doctor's advice and avoid exercising after surgery, cortisone injections, injuries, biopsies, orinfusion.

My chronic illness can be unpredictable, so I always ask my doctor if it's safe to exercise and for how long. Due to a weakened immune system, it takes me longer to recover from injuries and I have to listen to my body and take it easy after a break from exercise.

(Video) 10 Best Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis.

When I exercise too much, I get joint aggravation that feels like a hot burning pain with swelling that feels like jelly under the skin. I also have muscle pain and increased fatigue and cognitive dysfunction (brain fog).

The pain may appear immediately due to excessive intensity or irregular shape. If I overdo it, pain or increased fatigue can occur 2-48 hours later. Rest is just as important as movement, but balance is the key. If I need to rest for more than two hours after training, I've probably overdone it.

Another way I know if I've overdone it, especially while walking or running, is when my shins hurt. Spending too much time on your feet, especially with the wrong shoes, can cause discomfort in your feet, ankles, knees, hips, and lower back.

Exercise Mistakes I Made When I Started Working Out

When I was diagnosed with RA, I lived near a community center that had a gym, pool, and sauna. I knew I needed to lose weight and get healthier, but even walking short distances was a challenge. One day I plucked up the courage to walk into the gym and get on the elliptical, and I'm so glad I did.

I forced myself to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes as many days a week as I could, and then I went to the sauna. Cardio and elliptical training have helped me lose weight, strengthen my lower body, and improve my overall health.

One day I decided to take an inexpensive exercise class at the community center. It was a gray and gloomy day and I was very tired. The 45-minute class had no breaks and I struggled to keep up while feeling embarrassed that the older women were handling the drill better than me. To make matters worse, the instructor called me out for not keeping up, which made me feel even more insecure about working out in public.

She also dreaded strength training and avoided it completely because she didn't know how to use the machines. Also, I made the mistake of not setting goals or establishing a routine. I was constantly overdoing the elliptical and struggling to keep up with "normal" healthy people.

(Video) 9 Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis of the Hands, by Dr. Andrea Furlan

Eventually, I realized that I had to accept that life with AR was going to be different for me. With time and patience, I found a routine that worked for me and helped me reach my health goals. I've learned that exercise is an essential part of managing my RA, and I hope my experience can inspire others to find an exercise routine that works for them too.

Be a more proactive patient with ArthritisPower

ArthritisPower is a patient-focused registry for joint, bone, and skin conditions. You can participate in voluntary research studies about your health and use the app to track symptoms, disease activity, and medications and share them with your doctor.Learn more and apply here.


How much should a person walk if they have rheumatoid arthritis? ›

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, and this includes those suffering with rheumatoid arthritis.

Why exercise is difficult for people with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Taken as a whole, the findings indicate that physical activity can be extra difficult for people with rheumatoid arthritis because their nervous systems may overreact to relatively minor changes inside the muscles.

Is walking a safe exercise with rheumatoid? ›

Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, can help prevent a loss of bone density (osteoporosis), which can result from rheumatoid arthritis. Studies indicate that exercise will not worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.

What exercises should you avoid with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

For arthritis that affects the joints, running, jogging, jumping rope, high impact aerobics or any other exercise where both feet are off the ground at the same time are to be avoided. Hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga, is a new exercise trend.

Does inactivity make rheumatoid arthritis worse? ›

Nearly a third of adults with arthritis are physically inactive. Yet a CDC study shows that severe joint pain is more common among adults with arthritis who are physically inactive. Physical inactivity is more common among adults with arthritis who live in states in the Southeast and are disabled or unable to work.

Can too much walking make arthritis worse? ›

Exercising too much.

In the case of exercise and arthritis, that may not be the case. Don't overdo physical activity and respect your physical limitations. If you do too much or push too hard, you put yourself at higher risk for pain and joint damage.

What is the weakness of rheumatoid arthritis? ›

People with rheumatoid arthritis typically have several permanently inflamed joints. The inflammation inside the body can lead to general physical weakness, drowsiness and exhaustion. This feeling of extreme tiredness is also called "fatigue." Some people find this to be the worst symptom of the disease.

Is exercise or rest better for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Stay active, when you can. On the whole, the answer is "keep moving." Your joints were made to move. They need movement to nourish the joint and keep the muscles around the joint strong and limber. Doctors encourage their patients with arthritis to be as active as they can—as long as it isn't exacerbating joint pain.

Can you lose the ability to walk with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Mobility can be a problem for those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), especially when there is active inflammation. Because of the nature of RA some people have difficulty walking even short distances one week but can walk much further the next week.

Should you rest with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Rest will make inflamed joints feel more comfortable, but without movement your joints will stiffen and your muscles will become weaker. Find the best activities and the right balance for you. It's usually best to increase the amount of exercise you do gradually.

What is the best exercise for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Best exercises for RA pain
  1. Stretching. According to the Arthritis Foundation, stretching can help improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and increase range of motion. ...
  2. Walking. ...
  3. Flowing movements, such as tai chi and yoga. ...
  4. Pilates. ...
  5. Water exercises. ...
  6. Cycling. ...
  7. Strength training. ...
  8. Hand exercises.

Can exercise cause a rheumatoid arthritis flare up? ›

Through research, we found that joints with arthritis could benefit from exercise as long as it is done properly, and in moderation. When it comes to flares there is no data to support that exercise will cause a flare of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Can rheumatoid arthritis go into remission? ›

With aggressive treatment, RA can go into remission (no visible signs or symptoms. Learn if it's possible to take less medication or even a drug holiday.

What is the best way to live with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Use these self-care tips to help keep your symptoms in check.
  1. If You Smoke, Quit. Smoking can make symptoms of RA worse and remission less likely. ...
  2. Drop Extra Pounds. Losing weight can be difficult. ...
  3. Get and Keep Moving. ...
  4. Get Good Sleep. ...
  5. Take Care of Your Teeth. ...
  6. Manage Stress.

What triggers off rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Overexertion, poor sleep, stress or an infection like the flu can all set off RA symptoms. With a predictable flare you'll temporarily feel worse, but your symptoms will resolve in time. Unpredictable flares have more uncertainty associated with them.

How do I stop RA from progressing? ›

Take Your Medication

Medications to treat RA include: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Conventional DMARDs, which can slow RA progression and possibly save the joints from permanent damage.

What does rheumatoid arthritis stop you from doing? ›

How can rheumatoid arthritis change your everyday life? It's common to have stiff and painful joints in the morning, making it difficult to get up and start the day. Everyday chores like cooking, laundry, cleaning, garden work and recreational activities can become a challenge as the disease progresses.

What aggravates arthritis the most? ›

The most common triggers of an OA flare are overdoing an activity or trauma to the joint. Other triggers can include bone spurs, stress, repetitive motions, cold weather, a change in barometric pressure, an infection or weight gain. Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is an inflammatory disease that affects the skin and joints.

How far should you walk with arthritis? ›

How much activity do I need? Adults with arthritis should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like cycling at 10 mph or faster, or an equivalent combination.

How do I know if my rheumatoid arthritis is getting worse? ›

If you notice that you cannot move your joints as much or as easily as before, even if you don't have swelling or pain, your RA may be getting worse,” says Dr. Ghosh. Changes in the way joints look or function, which do not improve with changes in RA treatment, can be a sign of disease progression, says Dr. Wallace.

What not to do during an RA flare up? ›

At the height of your flare, you may need complete bed rest. Your body may not give you any choice. But try not to stay in bed for more than a day or two. Spending too much time lying on the bed or sofa will make you stiff and increase your pain.

Is RA considered a disability? ›

Is Arthritis a Disability? Simply being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis does not qualify you for disability. However, if your ability to work is greatly affected or impaired by your condition, then with the proper documentation, you may be entitled to SSA disability benefits.

Is rheumatoid arthritis a big deal? ›

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term (chronic) disease that causes inflammation of the joints. The inflammation can be so severe that it affects how the joints and other parts of the body look and function. In the hand, RA may cause deformities in the joints of the fingers. This makes moving your hands difficult.

What does RA fatigue feel like? ›

People who have RA often describe their fatigue as a deep tiredness or slowing down, akin to the feeling someone might have while recovering from the flu. It's also worth noting that other potential causes of fatigue exist, outside of RA.

Can people with rheumatoid arthritis jog? ›

For people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), exercise – namely high-intensity exercise, such as running or jogging – was considered a no-no for many years. But studies suggest it may be OK – even beneficial – to go for it.

Can I lift weights with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Strength training is good for just about everyone. It's especially beneficial for people with arthritis. When properly done as part of a larger exercise program, strength training helps them support and protect joints, not to mention ease pain, stiffness, and possibly swelling.

How quickly does rheumatoid arthritis spread? ›

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis often develop gradually over several weeks, but some cases can progress quickly over a number of days. The symptoms vary from person to person. They can come and go, and may change over time.

Should people with arthritis walk a lot? ›

Walking is recommended for people with arthritis as it's low impact, helps to keep the joints flexible, helps bone health and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. If you do experience pain or you're very stiff afterwards try doing a bit less, factor in more rest and check in with your GP, if you need to.

Is morning walk good for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

A morning walk is one of the best things you can do for your RA. Walking nourishes the joints and strengthens the muscles around them.

What time of day is rheumatoid arthritis worse? ›

Pain. The joint pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis is usually a throbbing and aching pain. It is often worse in the mornings and after a period of inactivity.

What is the best vitamins for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Several nutritional supplements have shown promise for relieving pain, stiffness and other arthritis symptoms. Glucosamine and chondroitin, omega-3 fatty acids, SAM-e and curcumin are just some of the natural products researchers have studied for osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Can you live with rheumatoid arthritis without medication? ›

Can you live with rheumatoid arthritis without medication? Since RA is a progressive disease, you cannot live with it without medical treatment. If you do, the symptoms will gradually get worse and become disabling.

How can I naturally slow down rheumatoid arthritis? ›

  1. Aerobics, like walking or swimming, to get your heart moving.
  2. Strength training, to keep the muscles around your joints strong.
  3. Range-of-motion exercises to help your joints move like they should.
  4. Balance moves to help you avoid stumbles and falls.
Mar 13, 2022

How do you calm rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Use cool packs.
  1. Use aids, for example, a stick if your knee is a problem.
  2. Wear the right shoes.
  3. Do gentle exercises, to help relieve the stiffness that makes the pain worse.
  4. Take your pain medication regularly and at the right dose.
  5. Use hot baths or showers to relieve early morning stiffness and pain.

Is walking on a treadmill good for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

“Just like walking outside, using the treadmill provides an excellent workout because it increases cardiovascular endurance and improves blood flow, which, in turn, boosts circulation and decreases pain,” explains Theresa Lawrence Ford, MD, rheumatologist with the North Georgia Rheumatology Group in Atlanta.

Should you push through arthritis pain? ›

Pushing through pain is not the thing to do. If your joints are hot or swollen, exercise can increase the damage and cause more pain. Remember, arthritis pain and pain from a strenuous workout are not the same. A little soreness a day or two after a workout is OK.

What exercises make arthritis worse? ›

High-impact activities that can worsen symptoms of osteoarthritis in your hips or knees include:
  • Running.
  • Jumping.
  • Deep squatting and bending.
  • Stair climbing.
  • Hiking.
  • Prolonged standing.
Mar 11, 2022

Can you overdo exercise with arthritis? ›

Don't overdo

You might feel some pain and stiffness after exercise if you haven't been active for a while. In general, if pain lasts more than two hours after exercise, you might be pushing too hard. You might need to exercise less often or for less time.

Does vitamin D prevent rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Studies also have found that a lack of vitamin D is linked to rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease characterized by swollen, aching joints and numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.

What is the newest treatment for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

People with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) could soon benefit from a new drug treatment that not only suppresses inflammation but also significantly reduces patient-reported pain scores. What does this mean? Otilimab is a monoclonal antibody, biologic drug, which targets and suppresses the inflammatory cytokine GM-CSF.

What is the most successful treatment for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Methotrexate is usually the first medicine given for rheumatoid arthritis, often with another DMARD and a short course of steroids (corticosteroids) to relieve any pain.
The DMARDs that may be used include:
  • methotrexate.
  • leflunomide.
  • hydroxychloroquine.
  • sulfasalazine.

How long do most people live with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Nevertheless, with the right treatment, many people can live past the age of 80 or even 90 years while experiencing relatively mild symptoms and only minor limitations on day-to-day life.

What are the new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis in 2023? ›

The newest drugs for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis are the Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, which are FDA approved under the brand names Rinvoq, Olumiant, and Xeljanz.

How many years can I live with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

In the study, the median survival rate for healthy adults was approximately 82 years while the median survival rate for people with RA was approximately 77 years.

Is walking good for rheumatoid arthritis in the feet? ›

Yes, walking is a good form of exercise for people with arthritis in the feet. Walking is low impact and puts minimal stress on the joints. It is also a weight-bearing exercise, which means it helps strengthen the bones.

How can I strengthen my legs with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Best exercises for RA pain
  1. Stretching. According to the Arthritis Foundation, stretching can help improve flexibility, reduce stiffness, and increase range of motion. ...
  2. Walking. ...
  3. Flowing movements, such as tai chi and yoga. ...
  4. Pilates. ...
  5. Water exercises. ...
  6. Cycling. ...
  7. Strength training. ...
  8. Hand exercises.

Is standing bad for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

For individuals with arthritis, constant weight bearing may worsen joint pain. Standing for long periods of time can also worsen leg swelling, particularly when someone is pregnant or has a condition that causes the veins to stay filled with blood, especially when standing.

What is the fastest way to reduce inflammation in the joints? ›

If you think your joint inflammation is due to a sudden injury, the RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method is the first line of treatment to reduce pain and swelling. See an orthopedist if the pain and swelling don't diminish after RICE treatment.

How do you stay positive with rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Tips for Staying Positive When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis
  1. Get adequate sleep. ...
  2. Exercise as much as you can. ...
  3. Practice mind-body exercises. ...
  4. Nurture supportive relationships. ...
  5. Get counseling if you need it. ...
  6. Put the disease into perspective. ...
  7. Do things that you enjoy. ...
  8. Learn to relax.
Oct 9, 2008

What is the daily routine for rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Swimming, walking, and cycling are all good options for people with arthritis. In addition to aerobic exercise, consider adding gentle stretches to your daily routine. Dr. Ngu and our team can help you find simple stretches that move your joints through their full range of motion.

How long does a rheumatoid arthritis flare up last? ›

How long do RA flares last? The length of time an RA flare lasts can vary widely, from a few hours to several days or weeks. If a flare does not improve after 7 days, it may be a good idea to contact a physician. The doctor may suggest adjusting the person's medication.

How do you stop rheumatoid arthritis from progressing? ›

Take Your Medication

Medications to treat RA include: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone. Conventional DMARDs, which can slow RA progression and possibly save the joints from permanent damage.

What is the first thing to do when you have rheumatoid arthritis? ›

Lifestyle and home remedies
  1. Exercise regularly. Gentle exercise can help strengthen the muscles around your joints, and it can help reduce fatigue you might feel. ...
  2. Apply heat or cold. Heat can help ease your pain and relax tense, painful muscles. ...
  3. Relax. Find ways to cope with pain by reducing stress in your life.
Jan 25, 2023


1. 7 Helpful Hand Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Beginner Hand Workout
(Virtual Hand Care)
2. Rheumatoid Arthritis Hand Exercises | Mobility & Strength
3. 7 Best Rheumatoid Arthritis Exercises for Hand & Leg
(Sunit PhysioTherapist)
4. Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
5. Walk with Ease to reduce arthritis pain
(Oregon Health Authority)
6. 9 Best Knee Rheumatoid Arthritis Exercises| Prevent Knee Stiffness, Pain
(Sunit PhysioTherapist)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Last Updated: 06/27/2023

Views: 6019

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (66 voted)

Reviews: 89% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Gov. Deandrea McKenzie

Birthday: 2001-01-17

Address: Suite 769 2454 Marsha Coves, Debbieton, MS 95002

Phone: +813077629322

Job: Real-Estate Executive

Hobby: Archery, Metal detecting, Kitesurfing, Genealogy, Kitesurfing, Calligraphy, Roller skating

Introduction: My name is Gov. Deandrea McKenzie, I am a spotless, clean, glamorous, sparkling, adventurous, nice, brainy person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.