At Flexcin, we deal a lot with RA with regard to supplements (in fact, the key ingredient in Flexcin, CM8, has patents for the treatments of RA). When it comes to exercise, we brought in an expert in exercise and nutrition for this post. Justin Check is an NSCA certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist, located in Southwest Florida, and put together some helpful information for those with RA.
Exercise is usually the last thing on someone’s mind when dealing with the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Unlike osteoarthritis which typically affects a single joint, RA is a systemic disease which can affect the joints throughout the entire body. Due to the overall “achy” body feeling many get from RA, some may assume that it is inappropriate to exercise and begin to feel discouraged. However, numerous studies show that one of the best ways to combat RA symptoms is by following a regular exercise program. Getting exercise often can limit painful RA episodes by strengthening the surrounding muscles of the joints, increasing mobility and blood flow, decreasing extra bodyweight, and boosting energy.
*Always consult with your physician before starting an exercise program, especially if you’ve had a joint replacement or major joint surgery.
- Make sure you warmup with at least 10 minutes of low impact aerobics (brisk walking, biking, etc…) before engaging in exercise. Increasing body temperature reduces the risk of injury by allowing muscles to relax, lengthen, and stretch better.
- Use caution when starting exercise if you’re experiencing a “flare up” where RA symptoms are exacerbated. Although it is normal to experience some moderate discomfort from exercise, if you experience any extreme, persistent, or sharp pain stop until your flare up has subsided.
- You should exercise every muscle group of the entire body (lower body, core/trunk, upper body) at least 1x week in your exercise program and tailor your routine to focus on your particular problem areas.
There Are 3 Main Types of Exercise that Someone with RA Should Consider
- Flexibility Exercises – these exercises focus on range of motion (ROM) which is important for maintaining proper movement patterns and good mobility. Maintaining full range of motion through the joints allows for more movement without risk of injury. Flexibility exercises can include active or static stretching, yoga, and Pilates. Click below to view a pdf handout of example stretches for the corresponding body part affected.
*Recommendation: start with 1-2 of the same stretches per body part each day after a warmup and before strength training. Try a new stretch for each body part the following week and adjust your routine accordingly.
- Strengthening Exercises – these exercises focus on increasing muscle strength which will help absorb impact and reduce stress on the joints. They also help with improving balance and moving confidently. Resistance training also increases bone density and fights osteoarthritis. Strengthening exercises might include resistance training with strength machines, free weights, resistance bands, or body weight exercises.
*Recommendation: if you’re inexperienced with basic strength training it is safest to start off using strength machines at a fitness center. Start off with light-moderate weight for each major muscle group and slowly increase weight when it feels appropriate. It is most ideal to hire a certified personal trainer to help you safely design a strength training routine that’s appropriate for you that you can follow every week.
- Aerobic Exercises –
these exercises help with cardiovascular health and blood flow. Getting your heart rate up increases blood flow to the entire body, which can help to keep inflammation at bay and also help to maintain a healthy weight. Low impact aerobic exercises can include brisk walking, swimming, biking, rowing, or using aerobic machines such as an elliptical. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults get at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise each week.
*Recommendation: adding in a 30 minute brisk walk or bike ride just 5 days/week will meet the NIH guideline and help keep excess weight down. It will also serve as a good warmup before stretching and strength training!
These types of exercises apply to all ability levels and conditions, but the key to designing a successful exercise program is to incorporate the right blend of exercises for your current condition and ability level. You should always start off slow and warmup with low impact aerobic exercises before stretching or strength training. Make sure to tailor a routine that best suits your needs and focuses on your problem areas. Hire a certified personal trainer if you need help designing a strength training routine and be sure to use caution during periods of flare ups. It’s important to keep moving and maintain ROM during severe flare ups, but discontinue your strength training routine until severe symptoms have subsided. Exercise really does help with everything!
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