What’s on this page?
- How much exercise should I do and how often?
- What exercise can I do?
- How will I know if I’ve overdone it?
- Not quite sure about exercise?
- Exercise referral programmes
- Key messages on exercise and RA
Everyone can benefit from some form of exercise, regardless of their condition. Often you’ll feel much better and more self-confident when you’ve done some exercise. Feeling positive can really affect the way you cope, in a survey carried out by Arthritis Care, 57% of people with arthritis said they found exercise to be an effective way of managing their symptoms. However, it is important you find the right type and level of exercise.
Regular exercise can:
- help to ease stiffness
- improve movement in your joints
- strengthen muscles
- keep your heart healthy
- help you lose weight, putting less strain on your joints
- help you strengthen bones and maintain bone density.
There are three types of exercise that combine to make up a good fitness programme. They are:
- range of movement – this helps improve strength and flexibility and promotes good posture; try swimming or t’ai chi.
- strengthening – this will help build the muscles, which in turn provide better support for your joints; try weight training.
- aerobic – this raises your heartbeat, which helps to improve your level of fitness by strengthening your heart; some of the best forms of aerobic exercise are brisk walking and cycling.
Finding the right level of physical activity is very important if you are to gain the health benefits of exercise. Try to be realistic about the amount of exercise you are able to do. The national physical activity guidelines recommend that everyone does 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week; the exercise should be enough to make you a little bit short of breath. It also recommends we spend 30 minutes a day on our feet – walking, climbing stairs, etc. However when you’re first starting out and especially if you have joint pain its best to aim for little and often. Doing 5–10 minutes of exercise each day is important for you to keep your joints moving and your muscles strong. Try to do this a couple of times a day and build it into your normal daily routine. If you wish you can gradually build this up to three 10 minute bouts throughout the day.
Low impact activities are best as this reduces the strain on your joints, ligaments and muscles. Swimming, walking and cycling are all low impact activities. Contact sports such as football and squash are best avoided. It is important that you warm up before starting your activity and remember to wear well fitting, shock absorbing footwear which is suitable for the activity. It is important to do an activity you enjoy, as you are much more likely to continue doing it than something you find a chore. Exercising with someone else can make exercising more enjoyable and help with motivation.
Try and be more physically active as part of your normal routine e.g. walking to the shops, taking the stairs etc.
You shouldn’t feel exhausted or in more discomfort after exercising, although you should feel as if your muscles have done some work and have stretched a little.
Generally, if you’ve finished exercising and an hour later you’re still aching or feel more sore than when you started, you may have overdone it a bit. Most people take a while to learn how much they can and can’t do. Have a rest for that day and start again the next, but halve the amount you were doing. Then gradually increase it by a few minutes each day.
If you feel you’ve overdone it, and in particular if a joint is hot or swollen, apply an ice pack. Cover the joint with a pack of frozen peas wrapped in a damp towel and apply for 10–15 minutes.
If you’re in doubt about exercise, what to do and how to do it, ask your GP or ask to be referred to a physiotherapist who will be able to guide you.
Arthritis Research UK produces a useful booklet and poster on exercise and arthritis that can be downloaded or ordered for free: http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/shop/products/publications/patient-information/living-with-arthritis/keep-moving.aspx
Exercise referral is available in Cornwall for patients who would benefit from being more physical active. Under this scheme GPs, physiotherapists and other health professionals can refer their patients for an individualised programme of exercises led by a specially qualified exercise professional. The sessions may be run in leisure centres or private gyms. Contact your GP for further information.
For further information on physical activity in Cornwall see:
- It is very important for people with rheumatoid arthritis to get the right balance between rest and activity.
- You can still exercise during a flare-up, but you should reduce the intensity of your workout.
- Exercise when you are least tired.
- Try to do small exercises every day that improve your range of movement.
- Exercising in the morning can help to reduce morning stiffness.
- Exercises that build and strengthen muscles can help protect and support your joints.
- Swimming, cycling and brisk walking are low impact exercises and particularly good for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Concentrate on maintaining good posture at all times.