Updated: May 2, 2020
As a professional dancer, exercise is an important aspect of my life. I have to maintain my fitness in-between each contract so that when I begin rehearsals for the next job I don't put myself at risk of injury, or being really out of breath because that is embarrassing in my job haha! I like to change up my exercise routine such as HIIT workouts, running, the gym, home workouts, weights, yoga to keep me motivated and challenged. I think ensuring you are enjoying your exercise is imperative so you can achieve your goals rather than forcing yourself through a workout.
RA puts us all at risk of heart disease so its important to get that blood pumping through cardiovascular exercise as-well!
Physical activity and exercise for people with arthritis has been proven to have many health benefits, it cannot make your arthritis worse. We all should be aiming to be physically active daily, and completing 2½ hours of exercise weekly. If you struggle with fatigue, then completing your exercise in short bursts may help you, try three lots of 15minute workouts.
New to exercise?
If you are new to this exercise thing then I would suggest speaking to your rheumatologist, nurse and/or your physical therapist to get medical advice on particular exercises to start with. Start off with getting a good sleep, and when starting exercise regimes start them small to allow your body to adapt and cope. Oh and just to pre warn you , you will get muscle soreness the next day, it means you've worked hard, this is a very different pain to Arthritis symptoms.
I have researched some top tips for exercising with RA that I'd like to share. Remember that everyone is different so my personal tips that help me may or may not work for you.
KEEP THOSE JOINTS MOVING!
Exercising, swimming and even walking in the water is brilliant for the days you have a flare up, or you are in pain. Water relieves most of the body weight reducing stress and stiffness on the joints. The water also provides a natural resistance which is brilliant for strengthening and aerobic exercise.
Strengthen those muscles
To take your stress off of your weakened joints you should use weights and strength training to strengthen the muscles around the joints to support them. Resistance bands are extremely popular at the moment as they challenge the body whilst building muscle over time. Resistance bands may be better than picking up dumbells as they are less immediate pressure on your joints.
Don't leave your small joints behind
As well as working on your big muscle groups its important to keep those smaller joints moving. RA can cause severe hand disfunction, so we all would like our hands to stay functional. You can find many finger, wrist and hand exercises online, and you can also speak to your physical therapist for some exercises that you should do every day. I like to roll my wrists, curl my fingers, massage each finger joint and sometimes use a stress ball to get my hands going.
Stretching improves flexibility, increases your range of motion and reduces stiffness. I think it's very important to stretch every day, particularly in the morning to get those joints moving and the blood circulating.
Yoga & Tai Chi
These types of movement involve deep breathing, flowing movements, stretches and meditation. It lowers stress and tension which allows you to sleep better. Once you try Yoga you will never go back, I enjoy the inner peace it provides, and focussing on nothing else but your breath is perfect for becoming in tune with your body. You will find lots of Yoga videos on You tube, I particularly love Yoga with Adrienne.
Low impact Aerobic Exercise
Low impact dance, walks, stationary bikes, elliptical machine, swimming are important to keep that heart healthy through cardiovascular exercise. Cycling reduces stiffness, increases leg strength and builds endurance. High impact exercising such as running and weight lifting can put my joints under too much repetitive strain, after a run my hips and knees can ache for days so I limit them to once a week and replace them with HIIT workouts at home or the gym.
Listen to your body!
Most importantly listen to your body. Some days your body is not going to want to co-operate, or you feel like you can't get out of bed. If you are having a flare up and your joints are causing you pain, going on a run is not going to help, high impact exercise is not for you today! Maybe try a deep stretch or some yoga today? There are some days that my body just can't handle any exercise, and in the back of my head I enforce a lot of pressure on myself to do something. It's sometimes more beneficial to give yourself a day off, or just go on a walk, rather than pushing your body to the limits and cause an injury, or further swelling of joints.
Exercise improves your Mental Health!
Aswell as tackling our RA, exercising has SO many benefits, especially for your mental health; improves your sleep, your libido, stress relief, improves your energy, less joint pain, strengthens bones and many more! As 1/3 of people with arthritis develop depression here is a fun fact... studies have found that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressants! Exercising promotes changes in the brain such as reduced inflammation, neural growth, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm. Most importantly exercise release ENDORPHINS, these are powerful chemicals in your brain that make you feel HAPPY! EXERCISE MAKES YOU LITERALLY HAPPY!
I find if I'm ever having a down day, exercise wakes me up and provides me with the right mindset for the day ahead. I try to exercise every day, and have a rest day for my body on Sunday, unless I wake up with poorly joints I sometimes let them win.
Theres also many other benefits to exercising:
-Higher self esteem
-Boost the immune system
-Reduce the risk of heart disease
-Help your body manage insulin and blood sugar levels
Give it a go, see how you feel!
Thanks for reading
Chloe & Arthur x