Traditionally, doctors rarely told rheumatoid arthritis patients to get out and exercise. On the contrary, arthritis had previously been seen as a natural part of the aging process and an indicator that one needs to decrease their activity levels. Over the years as research gave us more and more insight into the condition, long gone are the years of doctors recommending bed rest and medications as a form of treatment. Not only can individuals with rheumatoid arthritis continue to live a high quality of life, but increased activity may even help improve the condition.
So What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Arthritis is defined as joint inflammation. The inflammation can come from one or multiple joints, along with stiffness and pain. It can also be progressive, but certain measures and medication can certainly help slow the progression or even improve the condition. Rheumatoid arthritis is a particular type of arthritis, brought on by an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s own immune system to attack various parts of the body. The most commonly effected part of the body is the joints. It leads to inflammation that, if left untreated, can result in severe joint damage.
While joint inflammation is a typical condition associated with joint pain, several other issues distinguish rheumatoid arthritis from other various forms of arthritis:
- Exhaustion, sometimes accompanied with a fever, and a general feeling of illness.
- The condition is symmetric, meaning when one joint is affected on one side of the body, the same joint on the other side is too.
- The disease can last many, many years.
- It can affect various parts of the body outside of the joints.
- Joints that are swollen, warm, and tender.
- Long-lasting pain and stiffness, even after resting (30 or more minutes).
How Does Exercise Affect Arthritis?
Regular exercise is a critical component in managing arthritis. It assists in maintaining healthy and strong joints, muscles, flexibility, endurance, weight control, and overall health. On the flip side of things, rest helps to reduce the inflammation, fatigue, and pain in the joints resulting from arthritis. The key for optimal treatment is finding a good balance between the two.
During acute flares, one should engage in more rest to allow the flare-up to subside. However, when not having one of these flare-ups, one should try to find ways to get themselves active. Even during active flare-ups, an individual should still remain somewhat active – trying to put the joints through their entire range of motion once or twice a day. One’s healthcare provider should know how much exercise is optimal and when rest should be necessary.
Range-of-motion exercises should be an integral part of activities. They help to maintain flexibility and joint mobility. Aerobic exercise, such as swimming, walking, bike riding, or exercise classes can help improve the cardiovascular system and keep the body overall in good shape. Strength-training can also be a great form of exercise, so long as it does not cause any pain or inflammation. Again, when deciding what is best for an individual, one should always consult their healthcare professional and regularly check in with them to ensure they are taking the proper steps to treatment and recovery.