Does Exercise Help Arthritis? The Benefits of Regular Physical Activity for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Exercise can reduce inflammation, improve quality of life, make your bones and joints healthier, and protect you from cardiovascular disease.

The benefits of exercise for rheumatoid arthritis are quite widespread.

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It might seem counterintuitive to think that physical activity would be good for a disease of the joints. But, in fact, exercise is highly important for people who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. So why does exercise help arthritis? It can reduce inflammation, improve quality of life, make your bones and joints healthier, and protect you from cardiovascular disease.

What causes rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the joints. It is considered an autoimmune disease, because the body’s own immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation. This painful condition can make even the most routine tasks difficult. 

The benefits of exercise for rheumatoid arthritis

Many people with rheumatoid arthritis don’t get enough regular physical activity. This is understandable, given the pain, discomfort, and limited function caused by the condition. But what many people with the disease might not realize is that getting more exercise could actually help them to feel better and stay healthier.

The benefits of exercise for rheumatoid arthritis are quite widespread. People who exercise tend to have better quality of life, improved overall functioning, increased muscle mass and strength, and higher cardiovascular fitness.[1,2] People with arthritis who exercise also experience reduced fatigue and depression, two symptoms which can impact daily life significantly.[1]

And you don’t have to worry about exercise damaging your joints. One study showed that a regular exercise plan led to no detrimental effects on joints.[3] In fact, exercise may even improve the health of the joints and bones, not hurt it, helping to lubricate joints, strengthen connective tissue, and more.[2]

Another major benefit of exercise for rheumatoid arthritis is reducing cardiovascular disease risk. People with rheumatoid arthritis are at an increased risk for heart disease, but physical activity can help protect from that.[4] In one study, high intensity interval training reduced BMI, body fat, and waist circumference (all risk factors for heart disease), without impacting pain levels or causing flare ups.[5]

One of the major reasons that exercise is so good for rheumatoid arthritis is because it can help to reduce long-term inflammation. Markers of inflammation like C-reactive protein are much lower in people who have high levels of physical activity.[4] The key to helping manage a condition like rheumatoid arthritis is to fight inflammation, and exercise can help you to do just that.

What type of exercise is best, and how much?

The answer to these questions will depend on individual factors, including your current fitness level and symptom severity. Ideally, however, your exercise plan should include a combination of aerobic and resistance training.[2,4]

Try walking, jogging, or cycling a few times a week to begin. Then, increase your intensity; research shows that high intensity workouts confer some added benefit for people with rheumatoid arthritis if they can be tolerated.[2,5] Add in resistance training once a week at first, then increase to twice a week. Your ultimate goal should be at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of high intensity aerobic activity each week, accompanied by resistance training twice per week.[4]

Don’t be afraid of exercise making your condition worse; there is very strong evidence that regular exercise won’t hurt you, but instead it will help you to live a healthier and happier life.

Browse our collection of blogs for other natural treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis. Start with these three:

Share your experience

Do you have arthritis? Do you find that exercise helps you to feel better? Share your experience in the comments section below.

[1] Int J Clin Rheumtol. 2012 Oct 1;7(5):489-503.

[2] J Aging Res. 2011 Feb 13;2011:681640.

[3] Musculoskeletal Care. 2015 May 12. [Epub ahead of print]

[4] Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2015 Jul 15:1-10. [Epub ahead of print]

[5] Eur J Appl Physiol. 2015 May 27. [Epub ahead of print]

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UHN Staff

University Health News is produced by the award-winning editors and authors of Belvoir Media Group’s Health & Wellness Division. Headquartered in Norwalk, Conn., with editorial offices in Florida, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, … Read More

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