Exercise is crucial for managing rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s how to get motivated and stay active.
Leg lifts, jumping backs and squats are probably the last thing you feel like doing when you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). And you’re not alone. A study funded by a grant from the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) found that two in five adults with RA were inactive; and 54% of study participants lacked motivation for physical activity.
Yet sticking to a regular exercise regimen can actually minimize RA symptoms, improving function and flexibility and decreasing joint pain. Staying active also helps regulate sleep, reduce stress and manage weight.
Still not motivated to move? Try one of these simple strategies to start—and stick with—a fitness routine that’s right for you.
Say yes I can. The key to reaching your fitness goals may be easier than you think. Just have confidence in your ability to exercise, say Dutch researchers, who published a study on the subject in Arthritis Care & Research. Instead of telling yourself you can’t do it, set a realistic exercise goal—say, walking for 10 or 15 minutes without stopping—and achieve it. The more you believe in yourself, the higher your motivation, and the more you’ll benefit.
Determine your exercise baseline. Especially in the beginning, it’s easy to do too much, too fast. Try tracking your daily activities for a week prior to starting on an exercise program. This will help you pinpoint what you can and can’t do. Record your weight, the physical activities you do throughout the day, how challenging the activities are, and the severity of your symptoms before, during and after movement.
Dress the part. Toss on your workout clothes and lace up those sneakers. Even if you don’t have a gym date, your attire may encourage you to pick up your pace around the house or maybe even take a walk around the track before hitting the supermarkets.
Consider no-impact options. If joint problems make even a low-impact activity like walking too challenging, consider no-impact alternatives. Some good choices: An elliptical trainer, stationary bicycle or water workouts, such as swimming and aqua aerobics. Working out in water is great for your joints, as it provides cushioning and supports nearly 90% of your body weight.
Create an exercise menu. Doing the same fitness routine over and over can zap your motivation. It’s just a matter of time before you get bored. Give yourself some fun choices instead—Tai Chi in the park, a swim class, yoga, a walk with the kids. That way, you’ll stay out of a rut and be ready to match your activity to your mood and energy level.
Reframe your thinking. Stop thinking of working out as a dedicated activity that will take up a chunk of time. Fitness can mean any type of physical activity, from taking the stairs to cleaning the house. So if the gym or a class just isn’t for you right now, try seeking more opportunities to move throughout the day. Why not vow to never take an elevator when your destination is below the third floor? Or do a few biceps curls while watching your favorite television show? Talk with your healthcare provider about the type of movement that’s right for your specific symptoms.
Plan it out. Plotting your workout schedule can help you stick to your routine, but don’t be too rigid. Designate three or four time slots a week, and be willing to shuffle your schedule, if, say, you’re having a flare or are faced with an unexpected work event.
Pick up a pen. And start recording your daily moves. Jot down what you did and for how long—chores count!—and then add it all up at the end of each day. Also: Note any differences in how you feel. Are you waking up with less stiffness? Enjoying more energy? Documenting your progress will help strengthen your motivation.
Make a date. Whether you plan a morning walk with a neighbor or sign up for a swim class, setting an appointment will help you stick with your fitness plan. Set the alarm on your smartphone as a reminder.