Does Exercise Help with Rheumatoid Arthritis


Iv’e never known a disease or disorder that wasn’t benefitted by exercise, and rheumatoid arthritis is no exception. Movement matters. Everyday we should be doing so kind of exercise, because sitting on the couch all day is not helping our life expectancy. Exercise is not only beneficial, but crucial if you want to live a long and healthy life. Besides just general health, exercise is even more important for those suffering with chronic disease, like Rheumatoid Arthritis. Let’s first take a deeper look into exercise and rheumatoid arthritis.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

RA is an autoimmune disease affecting the joints, mainly the hands and wrists. Autoimmune disease is a disease of the immune system – instead of attacking intruding bacteria and viruses, it attacks itself. The joints become extremely inflamed due to the tissue lining pf the joints thickening. It also attacks symmetrically, which means if the right hand is affected, like the left had is too. If rheumatoid arthritis goes untreated it can cause permanent loss of cartilage. Loss of cartilage leads to smaller spaces in the joints, which turns into decreased mobility and increased pain.  This damage cannot be reversed so it is recommended that treatment be started early. 

Benefits of Exercise for Arthritis

Most people assume that when your doctor tells you that your joints are stiffening, or you are losing range of motion, that you should stop moving as much as possible to reserve it. This is the OPPOSITE of what you should do! You have to keep moving to slow the progression of the disease. This is because exercise/movement actually helps to increase secretion of fluid to lubricate joints, allowing you to continue moving for longer! There are more benefits of exercise for your rheumatoid arthritis as well..

Increase strength around joints

Exercise strengthens the muscles around the joint. This is extremely beneficial because 1. we all need strong muscles to improve our quality of life but 2. strong muscles can actually act as a brace to take the pressure off of the joints!

Maintain bone density

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints, causing them to become inflamed, then stiff, then immovable. If joints become immovable, then we stop moving, And if we stop moving, then that means we are losing bone density. Exercise allows us to overload the joints/bones and therefore either keep the density, or even build more!

Improve blood flow and nutrients

It’s no secret that exercise increases blood flow (hello heart rate). Increasing blood flow throughout the body also increases it in the joints, which gives the synovial membrane (the part of the joint that is affected by rheumatoid) a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrients! Not to mention that when you lift weights (aka load the joint) it forces water molecules out of the joint. When the weight is put down, water molecules rush back in and feed the joint fresh nutrients!

Decrease pain

As I said before, movement is going to lubricate the joints! And lubricating the joints means decreasing the pain those experience with rheumatoid arthritis.

Cellular Waste Removed

Exercise triggers a biological response called autophagy. This means dead and damaged cells are removed from the joint, kind of like taking out the trash.

Best Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Movement is medicine. I say this all the time, and I believe it to be 100% true. I actually think it should be prescribed, like a pill or an ointment, to treat disease. But instead, prescriptions are usually handed out instead. But, that won’t stop me from educating those about how beneficial exercise can be!

Strength Training

As I said earlier, weight can actually help rheumatoid in several ways! It doesn’t have to be a load that is extremely heavy, just use light weights and moderate reps. Any weight is going to put a load on the joint and give you the benefits, but make sure you are always changing your routine as well as your intensity (weights, sets, reps).


Yoga is a great addition to any program, because we all could use some extra flexibility. Mobility is extremely important for those with arthritis because the more stiff and inflamed the joints are, the more likely you are to stop moving. So, yoga is great to increase flexibility and make sure you keep movement in the muscles and the joints!

Swimming, Biking, Walking

The blood pumping exercise! Cardio is a great way to get blood pumping and keep your heart health! It is also a great way to get exercise in when you are having a flare up. I know the pain makes it hard to want to move, but movement can help! Just a short walk can improve your symptoms and slow the progression.

So although I don’t know the pain those are in that suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, I do know there are options. Nothing is going to treat the arthritis, but you can stop the symptoms and slow the progression.

But with exercise comes diet. If you really want to decrease the flare ups and live pain free, eating an anti-inflammatory diet and exercising is your best option!

It is going to make you healthy, happy, energetic, and (fingers crossed) pain free! So even though it might hurt and it might feel counter-productive, like movement makes joints worse (which is a lie), do it anyways. Move your body every day, if even for only 10 minutes, because it could change your life!

Haley Rowe January 19, 2019