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Rheumatoid Arthritis Sufferers Urged to Get Moving

Posted Feb 15 2012 9:20am

A recent study published in the Arthritis Care & Research report found that over 40 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients live a sedentary life. This finding is significant because these patients are already at risk for heart disease and their inactivity adds to that risk, stated Dr. Waseem Mir, a rheumatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The study followed 176 patients with rheumatoid arthritis aged 18 and older who participated in a trial that assessed the effectiveness of physical activity.

Previous recommendations from medical experts consisted of medication and rest, but now researchers are saying that physical activity is the key to keeping joints flexible, improving balance , gaining strength and reducing pain. “Our results suggest that public health initiatives need to address the lack of motivation to exercise and to promote the benefits of physical activity to reduce the prevalence of inactivity in those with rheumatoid arthritis,” said lead researcher Jungwha Lee, an assistant professor in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

The issue lies in convincing patients of the need to get moving, since 53 percent of the study participants were inactive and 49 percent didn’t even think that exercise would benefit them anyway. Since 1.3 million people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis in the U.S., there is definitely a need to get the word out about the benefits of physical activity in improving their daily lives.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis or RA, is a form of inflammatory arthritis and is also an autoimmune disease. The immune system, in patients with RA, attacks the body’s own tissues, specifically the thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result, fluid builds up in the joints causing pain and inflammation. This reaction is systemic which means that it can occur throughout your body. There is no cure and in some people it gets worse over time, while others experience long periods of remission. Early diagnosis combined with aggressive treatment is the most effective way to put the disease into remission and avoid joint destruction, organ damage and disability.

Why exercise helps those with RA

  • Exercise can help to reduce overall pain caused by RA and also help to build muscle strength.
  • Regular exercise helps to keep your bones strong. This is important, especially if you take steroids, because thinning bones can be an issue with RA patients.
  • Regular exercise will improve your ability to function and be more independent in your daily activities.
  • Exercise makes you feel better and gives you coping skills to help you deal with the issues caused by RA

Which exercises are best?

  • Stretching: Stretching improves flexibility and is simple and easy to start.
  • Strength training: Resistance exercises with or without weights strengthen your muscles and increase the amount of activity you are able to do pain-free.
  • Aerobic: Aerobic workouts improve cardiovascular fitness, make your heart and blood vessels healthier and help to improve your mood and overall well-being.

Which exercises to avoid?

  • Try to avoid jogging, running and heavy weight lifting. These movements tend to put too much stress on the joints.
  • These exercises can be incorporated into your workout program gradually, as you feel up to it.

Next steps

  • Before you begin any exercise program, speak with your doctor first and discuss your plans.

Then meet with a qualified health care or fitness professional to make sure you are incorporating the right moves and maintaining proper form.

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