How to Stay Motivated With Rheumatoid Arthritis

Every so often, the healthiest thing to do is give yourself a push. Find out how to get motivated!

Dana Gottesman
Reviewed by
John Varga, MD

When you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), there may be times when you feel overwhelmed by all you have to do. Eat right. Exercise often. Take medication. And not staying motivated to do all these things can cause problems. Maybe you eat five or six cookies with your coffee instead of one or two. Perhaps you decide to skip your daily walk because it’s too cold, warm, windy, rainy or whatever. Worse yet, you might stop taking your medication or start skipping your doctor appointments.

Relax! It’s not a secret. Maintaining a high level of motivation is a common problem for people with a chronic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis. And we’re here to help.

What’s the best way to stay motivated? Set small, reasonable goals and you’ll have long term success! Here are some suggestions:

Keep track of what you eat.
“I use various gadgets and technologies to help me count carbs, fat and sodium so I can better manage my diet,” says Mike Wilkins,* 46, an information technology professional in Boulder, CO. “I regularly upload the data to my computer and analyze the results. I use digital scales for counting carbohydrates, and I even have a database on my smart phone that I use any time I’m eating away from home.”

Good as Mike’s plan may be for him, not all of us are so tech savvy. But you can find a way that suits you, as Marcie Silkwood did. “I do my best to eat what I should every day,” says Marcie, 48, a resident of Greensboro, NC. “I keep my meals small, and low in carbs and fat.”

Seeing her continued achievement has motivated Marcie. “After losing 183 pounds without surgery, I learned the value of eating well. I know that if I return to my old eating habits, I will return to my old 300-pound-plus weight and have to deal with obesity-related conditions.”

“Then make sure you keep those foods available. Small goals—like choosing to have a snack of crushed pineapple in fat-free yogurt instead of a cup of ice cream—set you up for success.”

Exercise in all seasons.
“In the winter, I ski almost every week,” says Mike. “When weather permits, I bicycle to work.”

It’s never too late to start reaping the health benefits of regular physical activity. And even simple things work. “Wearing a pedometer that counts your daily steps is a great start,” says Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD, FACSM, professor of exercise science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. “So is exercising with a friend or group,” she adds. “It becomes a social activity.”

In addition to helping you manage your weight, exercise can help keep your joints flexible, and strengthen the muscles around your joints. It can also prevent or delay a wide range of other health problems, including high cholesterol levels and hypertension. Need another great reason for staying motivated? Working out may even help prevent depression, which is common among people with chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis.

See your doctor at regular intervals.
Even if you’re feeling okay, there is a lot to gain from getting regular checkups. In addition to getting checked out, it’s a time to reconnect with your doctor and to bring up any issues you may have with medications, side effects and symptoms. To make the most of your appointment, it’s important to prepare for it ahead of time. Make a list of questions and concerns, and pack a pen and paper for taking notes.

Think of your doctors as your teammates. “I see my general practitioner and several specialists on a regular basis,” says Marcie. Create your own healthcare dream team; they make a great support system. “Of course,” adds Marcie, “I am the most important person on my team. I must do my part, but I leverage any and all available resources to maintain my health.”

Understand your medications.
Discontinuing a medication could cause serious health problems, so take charge and have a good understanding of the medication you’ve been prescribed. It will make you more motivated to stay on course with it. If you’re unsure about why you are taking a certain medication or the dosage requirements, ask your doctor immediately. It’s also important to find out what to do if you miss a dose and what happens if you stop taking it. 

*Names have been changed

April 2013