Rheumatoid arthritis: Is exercise important?
Which types of exercises are best for people who have rheumatoid arthritis? Which should be avoided?
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Many people with rheumatoid arthritis tend to avoid exercise because they're afraid that the activity might worsen their joint pain. But exercise is one of the key treatments to help reduce the disability often associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Regular exercise can boost strength and flexibility in people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Stronger muscles can better support your joints, while improved flexibility can aid joint function.
Exercise can reduce fatigue and ease depression. And better overall fitness helps prevent heart disease and diabetes, two life-shortening ailments that often accompany rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis also accelerates the loss of muscle mass that typically occurs as people get older. That's why it's important to do exercises that will build muscle, in addition to aerobic exercises, which strengthen your heart and lungs.
Weight-bearing exercises, such as walking, can help prevent a loss of bone density (osteoporosis), which can result from rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies indicate that exercise will not worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. But if rheumatoid arthritis has severely damaged your hips or knees, you may want to choose low-impact exercises, such as swimming, water aerobics, walking or bicycling.
July 31, 2020
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- Schur PH, et al. Nonpharmacologic and preventive therapies of rheumatoid arthritis. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 12, 2017.
- Veldhuijzen van Zanten JJ, et al. Perceived barriers, facilitators and benefits for regular physical activity and exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: A review of the literature. Sports Medicine. 2015;45:1401.
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- What people with rheumatoid arthritis need to know about osteoporosis. NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Conditions_Behaviors/osteoporosis_ra.asp. Accessed May 15, 2017.