Exercise and RA: Keep Moving

Community Member

"Keep moving."   This has been a personal motto for me since rheumatoid arthritis became a part of my life seven years ago.   I have a stubborn streak in me that decided early on that rheumatoid arthritis was not going to take any and everything it wanted from me.   I was going to fight back.   A huge part of that fight was to keep moving no matter what.

When rheumatoid arthritis entered my world, figuring out how much exercise I could do became a struggle.   Before rheumatoid arthritis, I exercised about five days a week doing a combination of yoga, light weights, aerobics, bike riding, and playing with my two kids.   When rheumatoid arthritis came along, my body was strong from all the previous exercise and boy was I thankful for that strength.   Having a strong body provided me with better ability to pull myself out of bed on days that every joint was in pain.   It gave me balance when my knee was swollen and walking was difficult.   I realized that it was essential to maintain this strength and balance to the best of my ability.

On good days, I make sure I am working out to regain or maintain my strength.   On bad days, I still move, but I take it very easy and look at exercise in different terms.  There have been months and even years that all "exercise" came to a standstill.    What I realized during this time was that what I considered to be "exercise" had to be put on hold for a while and I had to consider "exercise" in a new way.   Looking at exercise or movement in a new light wasn't easy mentally for me, but with time I realized that I needed to honor my body by doing only the necessary things.    The only request I made of myself was that I "keep moving" my body in any way I could and by doing so, I was doing the exercises that were appropriate for me at the time.   Below is how I personally "keep moving".

Extreme pain/swelling/inflammation exercise days look like this for me:

  • 1. Pull myself out of bed without assistance. It may not seem like much, but when you are in a lot of pain, you become fully aware of how many little muscles and joints are needed for getting yourself out of bed.
  • 2. Walk down the stairs to the kitchen and prepare a cup of tea for myself. Lifting the tea cup on these days is a workout, but hey, I am still moving my body, right?
  • 3. Perform a few stretching movements that I learned from my physical therapist.
  • 4. Ask the kids to help with dinner and do whatever I am capable of handling in assisting them.

That's it.   On my worst days, my body exhausts very easily and the pain doesn't allow for much more.   I rest as much as possible knowing I am allowing my body the down time it needs.

Moderate to Lots of pain/swelling/inflammation exercise days look like this for me:

  • 1. Open doors in public buildings for myself. Geez, I never realized before rheumatoid arthritis how heavy these doors can be.
  • 2. Take short walks. Being outside in nature is nourishing to me, so even on my worst days, a short walk energizes me. Plus, there is an elderly woman in our neighborhood that gets out every single day and with her walker, walks the block. On days I think I won't get out and move, I see her and I know I have to do it too.
  • 3. Walk upstairs to the restroom. The way my house is set up, I have no choice but to walk up stairs to get to the bathroom. Overall, I am thankful for these stairs because they make me move. (Some days getting up these stairs can be a crawl.)

These are the days that I am able to grocery shop, but take the kids to carry grocery bags and pick items up from the shelves.   I have found the shopping cart to be very beneficial on days it is hard to walk.   These are also days that I do very little house cleaning.   Some days I just need to let the house go or ask for help from the family.    (They really do want to help us, we just have to let them.)

Low to Moderatain/swelling/inflammation exercise days look like this for me:

  • 1. Walk my border collie with or without assistance about one mile. I will sometimes ask one of the kids to join me in case the pulling of the leash hurts my shoulders.
  • 2. Bike ride. My family is very accepting that I may have to cut our ride short if I realize I have done more than my body can handle.
  • 3. Moderate amount of house cleaning.
  • 4. Exercises given to me by physical therapist.
  • 5. House cleaning.

On these days I may carry light grocery bags (don't hesitate to ask the bagger to keep the weight low.) I do what I can and let the rest go....most of the time.

No pain/swelling/inflammation exercise days look like this for me:

  • 1. Two mile or more walks/hikes with my border collie.
  • 2. Long bike rides with my family.
  • 3. Run lots of errands. Think about all the muscles you use getting in and out of the car.
  • 4. Lots of house cleaning. This is when my body allows me to do deep cleaning which involves lots of bending down, carrying loads of laundry, etc. This can definitely be a workout.
  • 5. Exercises given to me by physical therapist.
  • 6. Something I am very proud of is that I am now on my second round of completing P90X. It is an at home workout that uses weight training, yoga, stretching, aerobics, and more. I had to slowly work my body back into this type of workout and recommend this type of workout if and only if you know your body is ready for it.

These are the days that I catch up on everything I can't do on days that rheumatoid arthritis has become stronger than me.   These are the days I visualize about when I am experiencing lots of pain and inflammation.   These are of course my favorite days.

"Keep moving".   I know days are hard and the last thing we want to do is move, but by doing so we not only help our joints, but also allow our minds to focus on something other than the pain.   I often find myself smiling and forgetting about the pain for a few seconds as I spend time moving at the grocery store and socializing with others.   I find my mind moving away from the pain as I absorb the sunshine on a walk and focus on its healing power.   I allow my mind to forget the pain for just a bit as I enjoy a cup of tea with my family or friends.   Moving can mean very simple things at times when the pain is extreme and it can mean more extravagant things at times when are bodies are in a good state.   It also means something different for each of us.   Whatever your state is right now, remember to do some type of movement.   Maybe all you can handle today is the movement of your jaw muscles into a smile.   But hey, that's moving, right?