Rheumatoid Arthritis and Exercise

A regular exercise routine will help improve an overall sense of well-being in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The three types of exercises that are best for people with rheumatoid arthritis are range-of-motion exercises (or dance), strengthening exercises (or weight training), and aerobic or endurance exercises (which can include bicycle riding). It is important to talk with your doctor and other healthcare providers about the exercise options that are right for you.

An Overview of Exercise and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Exercise is a very important part of any treatment program for rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise is important for maintaining healthy and strong muscles, preserving joint mobility, and maintaining flexibility. Exercise can also help people sleep well, reduce pain, maintain a positive attitude, and lose weight. The amount and form of exercise recommended for each individual will vary depending on:
  • Which joints are involved
  • The amount of inflammation
  • How stable the joints are
  • Whether a joint replacement procedure has been done
  • The person's physical abilities, limitations, and changing needs.
Exercise is one part of a comprehensive rheumatoid arthritis treatment plan. Other parts of a person's treatment plan may include rest and relaxation, proper diet, medication, and instruction about proper use of joints and ways to conserve energy, as well as the use of pain relief methods.

Types of Exercise Most Suitable for People With Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are three types of exercises that are best for people with rheumatoid arthritis:
  • Range-of-motion exercises (e.g., dance) help maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness. This type of exercise helps maintain or increase flexibility.
  • Strengthening exercises (e.g., weight training) help keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Aerobic or endurance exercises (e.g., bicycle riding) improve cardiovascular fitness, help control weight, and improve overall function. Weight control can be important to people who have rheumatoid arthritis because extra weight puts extra pressure on many joints. Some studies show that aerobic exercise can reduce inflammation in some joints.
Most health clubs and community centers offer exercise programs for people with physical limitations.
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Information About Rheumatoid Arthritis

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