Video Q & A:

Exercise

Question:

Should I be exercising with rheumatoid arthritis?

Expert:   Harry D. Fischer, MD, Chief of Rheumatology, Beth Israel Medical Center New York »

Your joint pain may compel you to stay home on the couch all day, but physical activity is vital to your treatment. Find out why you need to exercise often.

Transcript: When you are first diagnosed, giving up on activity weakens the muscles around your joints, forcing your BONES to do more work, which causes MORE joint pain. Regular exercise helps: REDUCE joint pain and stiffness, prevent bone loss, build muscle strength, and increase endurance. It’ll benefit your overall health, too. Physical activity can help you sleep better, ease any depression and anxiety you may have about your diagnosis… AND help you lose or maintain your weight. Extra weight FORCES your already-suffering joints to work harder. For every extra pound of weight you carry around, it adds up to three to five pounds of extra weight for each knee with each step. By losing 10 pounds, you can reduce the stress on your knees by 30 to 50 pounds a stride. That translates to a substantial reduction in pain and LESSENS the chance that your RA will go into remission. Even people with more advanced RA benefit from exercise—as long as it’s the right exercise. I know that for people with rheumatoid arthritis, the idea of exercise may be overwhelming. But the key is to start out slow. Begin with stretching exercises, THEY’LL help your joints stay flexible and make your daily tasks easier. Examples include the chest and arm stretch or the seated hamstring stretch. Try to do these exercises about 3 days a week. Keep up with this, and you’ll graduate to strengthening exercises. Stronger muscles will reduce the stress on your joints. This, in turn, cuts down on bone loss. Talk with your doctor and perhaps a physical therapist to determine exactly how to proceed with using weights, elastic bands, or with weight machines. Whatever you do, gradually increase the weight as you develop more endurance. And remember, always work with a trained physical therapist or knowledgeable doctor to design a weight-bearing routine that will help—not damage—your joints. Aerobic exercise is ALSO a great idea for people with RA. Aerobic exercise helps maintain weight loss and improves your overall health. Simply go for a walk, join a class, start swimming, or try an elliptical trainer. And again, work with your health-care provider to make sure you establish an aerobic regimen that is in sync with your particular abilities and needs. In general, you should exercise MORE when you’re feeling healthy, and cut BACK during an RA flare. BUT, don’t OVERWORK your joints OR fall back into inactivity. Head to your doctor or physical therapist for MORE information on exercising with RA. More »

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