Years of living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), have provided me with the wisdom to seek out thoughts and activities that take my mind away from pain and focus, instead, on the good that surrounds me. Daily morning walks are one of many diversions I have implemented into my health routine. It is an exercise that benefits my RA body physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Let’s start with the physical benefits of walking, since that is generally what RA is associated with. Mornings are tough for most of us as we wake up to stiff joints that would rather stay in bed all day. But have you heard the saying: “Move it or lose it?” Often our stiff muscles need to be moved and walking is an exercise that can be accomplished at a snail’s pace if needed, or at a faster pace if allowable.
I have had days when I walked only a few houses away and back home. Other days, I walk two to three miles. I let my body tell me what it needs each day.
The longer one lives with RA, the better you understand that it does not affect just your joints, but your entire body. The benefits of walking allow you to tap into overall body health.
- Circulation/blood pressure
- Stronger bones — RA often has tag-along diagnoses, such as osteoarthritis. Keeping bones strong is a great way to help prevent them from breaking at some point.
- Improved muscle mass — If you are like me, you probably noticed a decline in muscle mass during long periods of flares. We need that muscle to help lift our bodies, especially on days our joints can’t help.
- Vitamin D — Just 15 minutes a day in sunlight can help add to our vitamin D requirements, something that many of us may be lacking.
- Weight loss — Being overweight doesn’t feel good physically and it isn’t good for overall health. Walking is a gentle way to help burn some calories.
What friends and family may not understand about RA is that pain takes up a lot of space within our minds. It is challenging to think outside the pain when it is intense.
For me, walking allows uninterrupted quiet to work out the struggles I feel about the pain I am experiencing with RA and the “what if” worries that come with not knowing if the symptoms will persist.
Sometimes I need the alone time on walks to deal with the anger I feel when flaring; at other times, I need to move in order to deal with the complete sadness my heart feels for my body. Walks allow me to shed tears without burdening my family with worry. They give me space to let stress work its way out of my body.
Nature has a special way of calming the mind. As I walk, I often hang on tight to my border collie’s leash and let her lead as I close my eyes and absorb the magic that the sun has to share with me.
The sound of birds in the morning is like no other sound in quieting the mind. Squirrels are quite energetic early in the day and chase each other up and down trees. I often laugh out loud watching them play.
I meet neighbors I don’t know by name but who in the morning hours smile and say: “Good morning.” I need those positive connections to other humans.
After walking daily for so many years, I often feel like mornings are my support. When I head out, I feel wrapped in a big nature hug. Afterward, I feel ready to greet the rest of my day.
Benefits of listening to your body
Many mornings I wake up and would like to stay in bed, skipping my walk. What motivates me is a border collie who tells me it is time to go, but more importantly, remembering how great I always feel once I get outside and feel the morning air on my face.
As much as I love morning walks, I have also learned that there are days when my body needs something different. A flare can often take more energy and stamina than I have to give that day. I feel disappointed on these days, but I also know that when my body talks, I need to listen.
If it tells me to rest, I take the day off from walking and pull something else from my bag of RA diversions — Netflix, reading in our backyard, or coffee with my husband. Whatever it is, I know that I need these diversions — they benefit all aspects of my RA body.