A Walking Plan Fit for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Use this RA-friendly walking plan to walk your way to trim, fit and energetic while protecting and strengthening your joints.

Joanne Van Zuidam
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If you’re looking for a workout that will help your joints as well as your heart, lungs and mood, it’s time to put on your walking shoes and head for your local track, treadmill or neighborhood park.

Walking helps keep joints flexible. This is key for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), since joints stiffen with inactivity. Also, as walking strengthens the muscles and tissues surrounding the joints, it helps protect those joints. As an added bonus, walking will help you lose weight and ward off heart disease.

Grace DeSimone, a wellness specialist who develops corporate walking programs at Plus One Fitness Management in New York City, has created this plan that anyone can do—whether you’re a beginner looking for motivation or an experienced walker in need of variation. If you’re new to exercise, take it slow and steady—that’s the key to long-term success. Now, lace up your sneakers and let’s get started. Of course, you should always check with your healthcare team before beginning any exercise program!

Warm up
Walk at a slow, leisurely pace for up to 5 minutes. Once your muscles feel warm and your heart rate increases, quicken your pace. During the walk, maintain a pace of 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour—fast enough to walk a mile in 17-24 minutes.

Weeks 1 and 2
Your goal: Make it a habit
Commit to walking 2-3 days a week at first. Don’t worry about walking for a specific amount of time or distance. What you want is to determine a base line to build upon. Do this by measuring one of three factors: 

How long: Determine how long you can comfortably walk. You may be able to walk for only 10 or 15 minutes at a time—and that’s enough, for now.

How far: Measure the distance you can comfortably walk. Can you walk a lap at the local high school track? Can you do more?

How many steps: Use a pedometer to count how many steps you take during an entire day, in addition to your walk. (A 15-minute jaunt is about 2,000 steps). The American Heart Association recommends an average of 10,000 steps a day to boost heart health. Put on a pedometer to find out how close you are to that number. Another benefit? Researchers have found that people who walk the recommended 10,000 steps per day reduce their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Once you know your starting point, you can slowly start to build on it. For the first two weeks, though, just maintain your initial level of activity to help you get into the routine of walking. 

April 2013