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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Did you say exercise???

     I cannot emphasize enough just how important exercise is to the successful management of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  I know this seems counter-intuitive since often our joints are inflamed, swollen and painful.  But it is so crucial to my overall well-being that without it I am miserable!  
     The key to exercising with RA is to find activities you can do with minimal risk of causing a flare and/or joint discomfort or damage.  That sounds easy but is anything but.  What I once did, tennis and running, just doesn't work now.  I hated giving them up and hope to resume tennis at some point.  For a time I really just could not find anything that replaced it.  I did the treadmill for a number of years but now my feet are just too involved so I cannot do that anymore.  Biking once bothered my knees but is great now.  Zumba, which is a dance exercise, is great!  I really get a good workout and the steps are diverse enough that it doesn't seem to agitate any one joint.  I do have to be careful though not to overdo it.
     The best, and I mean best form of exercise for me is swimming and I have learned to love it.  Didn't always.  But I find it is a great way to workout your body with no pressure on the joints.  I can even do strength training in the water when my wrists are not acting up.  It also provides me with a chance to relax and meditate, undisturbed.  Afterward a jacuzzi and hot shower and I am all set to take on the world.  
     Exercise not only keeps you fit physically and mentally and helps maintain your weight but it also is a key to overall hearth health.  RA patients have a higher risk of a number of other ailments including heart disease so doing aerobic exercise is vital to staying on the right path and countering these potential problems.
     For me and many others, sleep is difficult with RA so exercise serves to tire me out in a way that enhances my sleep.  I cannot tell you how much of an issue it is for me when I am unable to exercise!  I am grumpy, a lot less productive as my energy level is lower and my sleep is terrible!  
     A word of caution here.  I was not very good at monitoring my level of activity in terms of how intense to get and I have twice had foot stress fractures and a host of other minor injuries.  That said, I have no regrets because the benefits far outweigh the risks and I am much better now at stepping back and taking a break to rest sore joints.  That is very important to do!  As time goes on you will become better and better at knowing what you can do and how intensely to do it.
     If you find it tough to get motivated, find a friend or family member to exercise with or a group in your area that does what you want to do, like Zumba! 
     So despite the pain, etc. associated with RA there really is no excuse not to find some form of exercise that will work. It is so worth it!
Hugging and laughing are great ways to burn calories so go for it!