Use this RA-friendly walking plan to walk your way to trim, fit and energetic while protecting and strengthening your joints.
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!
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.
Weeks 3 and 4
Your goal: Get stronger, walk longer
Begin to increase the length of each walk in 5-minute increments. Work toward walking at least 30 minutes daily—45-60 minutes is even better. It may not happen by Week 4, but that’s okay. Progress at your own pace.
Weeks 5 and 6
Your goal: Walk today, walk tomorrow
Increase the frequency of your workouts. Add another day of exercise until you’re walking at least 30 minutes most days of the week.
Weeks 6 and beyond
Your goal: Beat boredom & stay the course
Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, you’ve probably made walking part of your daily routine.
Chances are, nothing will get in the way of your workout now. You’re committed. But watch out for boredom. To avoid it, keep a few tricks up your sleeve. A few to try:
Aim for a 5-minute cool-down period, walking at a slower, more leisurely pace. Follow with these stretches to improve mobility and reduce soreness.
Why it’s great: Releases tension from thighs
How to do it: Hold onto a wall or other stable surface with your right hand for balance. Bend your left knee and bring your left heel behind you, grabbing it with your left hand. Inhale and gently pull your heel toward your buttocks. You should feel a stretch in the front of your left leg. Hold the stretch and breathe for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Why it’s great: Stretches hips, lower back and buttocks; relieves tension associated with standing, walking or jogging
How to do it: Sit on a step or chair. Place your left ankle on your right knee. Make sure the right knee is directly over the right heel. Take a deep breath in and as you exhale, lean forward from your waist. Hold the stretch and breathe for 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.