It’s not easy at all to exercise when you’re in pain. But for people who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, working out can help relieve the pain. Moreover, regular exercise, especially when the workout routine is designed specifically for rheumatoid arthritis patients, can help improve cardiovascular health as well as cardiorespiratory fitness. This is definitely good news, considering the fact that cardiovascular and respiratory disease are two of the leading causes of mortality associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
For rheumatoid arthritis patients, other benefits of regular physical activities include increased muscle mass and strength as well as better physical functioning. Continue reading to find which types of exercises are best for individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
#1 Flexibility Exercises
Stretching improves overall flexibility and the stretching workout routine can also be customized to focus on joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis and the surrounding muscles. Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects the joints found in the wrists, ankles, knees, and elbows and stretching exercises that target the muscles in these areas can help lessen the stiffness. When there’s less joint stiffness, moving around gets less painful.
Range-of-motion exercises can also improve physical functioning, especially joint function, in rheumatoid arthritis patients. When you engage in range-of-motion exercises, you basically work your joints through their full range. For instance, when you make a big circle with your fully stretched arms, you’re exercising your shoulder joints.
For people who don’t have rheumatoid arthritis, these types of exercises may be basic. But for those who have rheumatoid arthritis, doing range-of-motion exercises before going to bed can do wonders in reducing joint stiffness the next day. And doing another set of range-of-motion exercises when you wake up can further help to get your joints moving. Thus, range-of-motion exercises are best done twice daily, once when you wake up and again before sleeping.
#2 Aerobic Exercises
Aerobic exercises help improve the general health of rheumatoid arthritis patients as well as lower their risks for cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Moreover, aerobic exercises help improve muscle function which can be beneficial in fighting muscle wasting and preventing the impairment of physical functioning.
Taking a walk, even for just 30 minutes daily, can help loosen the joints and reduce arthritis-related pain. For rheumatoid arthritis patients, walking is one of the easiest and most convenient exercises. Whether outdoors or on a treadmill, it’s a great exercise to get the heart rate up and improve cardiovascular fitness. For those who are having difficulties with balance, using walking poles when exercising outdoors can help a lot.
Aquatic aerobic exercises are also great, especially for rheumatoid arthritis patients who are having difficulties with their knee joints. One study investigated the benefits of hydrotherapy and found that for rheumatoid arthritis patients, hydrotherapy led to improvements in joint tenderness. It also helped improve mood and tension symptoms, reduce pain, and increased grip strength.
For people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the key is to engage in aerobic exercises in moderate intensity only. This means that even while exercising, the person can still talk comfortably without getting short of breath. This is to avoid getting easily fatigued since fatigue and loss of strength are two of the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Moreover, the exercise duration can be broken down into short intervals like for 10 minutes each, so that the patient can rest and recover in between intervals. For best results, aim for a total of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week. It doesn’t have to be just one form of exercise. For instance, walking the dog for ten minutes every morning will already count.
#3 Recreational Exercises That Improve Body Awareness
The flowing movements associated with tai chi are considered as a great exercise for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Not only does tai chi present minimal stress on the joints, tai chi also helps improve balance and posture. And unlike intense cardio workouts, rheumatoid arthritis patients may consider tai chi as relaxing, which can also help improve their mood.
Rheumatoid arthritis often leads to impaired coordination when the joints become badly affected. It can also result in an impaired sense of balance and decreased position awareness. These factors can then increase the patient’s risks of falling and suffering from fall injuries.
Exercises like tai chi and yoga can help people with rheumatoid arthritis improve their position awareness and regain their sense of balance and coordination. Other benefits of tai chi include reduced stiffness, improved muscle function, and reduced stress. Yoga not only helps improve flexibility and muscle function, it can also help in reducing pain, enhancing mood, and improving range of motion.
#4 Strengthening exercises
Loss of muscle mass and muscle strength are commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Because muscle wasting in rheumatoid arthritis patients usually attacks skeletal muscles, it’s very important to exercise these muscles. Thus, strength training is important because stronger muscles provide better support to the joints, helps prevent bone loss, and lowers the risks for muscle wasting.
Before engaging in strengthening exercises, however, it is best to consult a healthcare provider first. This is to determine if the patient’s joints and muscles can handle the physical activity, and also to check if there are other types of exercises and intensity levels that should be avoided. It’s also a good idea to get the help of a personal trainer or a physical therapist to properly design a workout routine that’s customized to the needs and condition of the rheumatoid arthritis patient.
The key to strengthening exercises is to challenge the muscles while making sure joint pain is not increased. Thus, weights, the level of resistance, the number of repetitions and the level of intensity must all be tailored to the patient’s condition so as to ensure that additional pain and injuries are prevented.
For people with rheumatoid arthritis exercising at home, equipment like elastic bands or hand-held weights can be conveniently used. Even while sitting or lying down, hand-held weights can be used to exercise the arm muscles and the elbow and shoulder joints. If these pieces of equipment are not available, even lifting the limbs against the resistance of gravity can already be a good workout.