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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Exercise

One of the most beneficial things that an arthritis sufferer can do for themselves is to incorporate a regular exercise routine into their lives.

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Regular exercise helps to maintain range of motion in joints, strengthens muscles that help hold joints in their proper position, and reduces the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. It will also increase energy levels, reduce pain, and induce better sleep.
Your exercise program does not mean you have to train as though you are going to the Olympics. In fact, it needs to be tailored to your preferences, your abilities, your financial and living circumstances, and your schedule. Any exercise program needs to consist of things that you will actually do, or your plan will look wonderful on paper, but will benefit you not at all.

How Much is Needed ?

There are several levels of exercise that benefit arthritis sufferers: the first level is Range of Motion exercises. These gentle stretching and rotating exercises are designed to maintain and/or increase the range of motion of your joints, and to loosen up tight and sore joints in the morning. The synovial fluid in your joints thickens up during the hours you spend sleeping and not moving, so ROM exercises in the morning help to thin out the fluid and get the joints moving freely again. Exercises to improve your balance, body awareness, and coordination also fit into this category. This level of exercise intensity is suitable for a warm-up prior to more strenuous exercise, or a workout all by itself for those just beginning an exercise program or recovering from joint replacement surgery. Ten minutes of these exercises first thing in the morning can improve your whole day.

You Can Step it Up

The second level of exercise is recreational exercise. This includes activities like swimming, walking, yoga, Tai Chi, and aerobic exercise such as riding a bike (stationary or mobile) or using an elliptical machine. These activities have not been found to harm arthritic joints so they are safe to do, although it is always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting any exercise program. If you aim for 150 minutes per week of this level of exercise per week (divided into 10 minute segments if that is what works best for you) you will find that it benefits you in a variety of ways.

How much to Avoid

The third level of exercise is competitive, and it is intense and strenuous. This may be a level that your doctor would not recommend, due to the possibility for damage to your joints. It may not be a level that many arthritis sufferers would be interested in achieving anyway, but if you are interested, it is very important that you discuss it with your doctor.

Exercise is a necessary part of life, and it should not end just because you have arthritis. Regular exercise is an integral part of joint health, and will help to enable you to lead an active, normal life for far longer than you would without it.