Enjoy the Outdoors the RA-Friendly Way

You can take on outside activities—just get a little creative! Find out how to beat back RA-related pain while still having fun in the sun.

Diana Bierman

Do you stay close to home during the warmer months in fear that any activity will make you achy and tired? Don't let rheumatoid arthritis (RA) zap your fun! It's important to keep active. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Aging Research says moderate-intensity, low-impact activity can ease RA pain, improve flexibility and boost your overall mood. Click through to discover how to sidestep pain and fatigue while embracing the outdoors. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before trying any of these activities.

Pedaling, gripping handles, leaning forward—these actions can take a toll on your body. But that doesn't mean you can't occasionally take your bike for a spin.

What you can do: Bike on a flat surface with no incline, which will decrease resistance when pedaling, reducing stress on your legs. If your hands, wrists or fingers tense up from clutching the handles, purchase bike grips you can slip onto the handlebars. A bike with foot instead of hand brakes is another smart option to avoid hand tension. To lessen back pain, use a bike with Y-shaped handlebars, which allow you to sit taller. 

Canoeing or Kayaking
Sailing along a river or lake is peaceful, but paddling and other activities associated with canoeing or kayaking can be tough on your arms, shoulders and back. However, done right, these water sports can help you stay active and keep your joints healthy.

What you can do: Enlist the help of a friend. Make sure to stretch before and after and take frequent breaks to prevent a sore back and arms. Your posture is also important as slouching can contribute to lower back pain. Tip: Know that cold weather can cause sore hands and joints, so use hand warmers if a chilly day is predicted.

Want to scope out that nature trail you've been meaning to walk for months? Or join your friends for a monthly hike? Don't be intimidated by winding paths or being on your feet for long periods of time. Hitting the trails can be more joint-friendly.

What you can do: Choose your hiking route carefully: Going downhill may strain your knees and ankles more than going uphill. Wear supportive shoes and make sure to take breaks—but not too long, as this can cause your joints to lock. If you're staying overnight, pack lightly and use a fitted backpack to minimize the weight on your shoulders.

Swimming can be quite beneficial if you have RA: The water's buoyancy promotes movement without putting stress on your joints. However, you should still be cautious when going for a dip to avoid overexerting yourself.

What you can do: Begin your swim slowly, and over time, increase to a faster pace and longer time in the water. Consider joining a low-impact aqua aerobics class, a gentle way to exercise your joints and muscles. Bonus: Soak in a heated pool or Jacuzzi to soothe away the pain.

Setting up, grilling, walking around—it's enough to make you wish barbecues didn't exist. They can be exhausting, but they don't have to be.

What you can do: A cookout is not the time to break out the fancy china—use paper plates and plastic silverware so you can clean up in a cinch. Use coolers with wheels, so you can easily bring out the drinks and change their location. For an RA-friendly meal, marinate your meats in spices like ginger or turmeric, which can help reduce inflammation. And above all, wear comfy shoes to make mingling a breeze!

April 2013