The First Steps to Fitness With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Excuses, be gone! If you have RA, the right exercise plan can reduce pain, boost energy and extend your life. Here’s how to get started. 

Katie Kerns
More Sharing +

The right—and wrong—exercises for RA 
Because of the heart-health risks associated with rheumatoid arthritis, choose a form of aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping. Whether it’s walking or swimming, aim for 150 minutes a week—even if it’s in 10-minute intervals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends strength training for people with rheumatoid arthritis, due to its research-backed knack for decreasing pain, increasing muscle strength and reducing disability. If lifting weights sounds like the last thing you want to do with achy joints, try hydraulic resistance training. And don’t forget flexibility—stretching or taking RA-friendly yoga classes can reduce stiffness and may decrease pain.

What kind of exercises should you avoid if you’re just getting started? “No Zumba,” says Iversen, who explains that the main risk of this dance-fitness workout is overdoing it. “If your post-workout pain lasts for more than an hour, you’ve probably overdone it.” Also be wary of workouts that put a lot of stress on the joints, such as jogging.

Should you exercise during an RA flare?
“The old-school mindset was never to exercise during a flare. Now, we know that moderate exercise is okay,” Iversen explains.

During a flare, the best trick is to stick to interval training—try a 10-minute set first. If that feels okay, try another… and perhaps even another. 

April 2013