If there’s one thing that being in an RA support group has shown me, it’s that rheumatoid arthritis affects each one of us differently. The range of people I know with RA runs the gamut from the wheelchair-bound to marathon runners. One person is hanging on by a thread, holding onto the phrase easy does it, while another pushes past the pain to do more and more. I sit somewhere in the middle, acutely aware of how grateful I should be for the active life I live, but also knowing from experience that if I push too hard, my body will rebel and shut down.

If you Don’t Use It, You Lose It.

One of the first pieces of advice I ever got on managing RA was to keep moving. For someone who woke up stiff every morning and struggled just to walk across the hardwood floor of my bedroom, exercise was the last thing on my mind. Sitting and resting seemed a more natural response to my condition. Yet over the years, I have found that exercise really is the right answer. When I sit, I get stiff. When I move, I improve.

Work Up to Where You Want to Be.

About five years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. I felt great and I looked great. But then came RA. Not only did it slow me down, but that initial dose of prednisone helped me put on about 15 pounds within a few months. One of my biggest mistakes since then has been to try and lose that weight as quickly as I gained it. First I hired a personal trainer and within a week was in a flare. Then I joined a water aerobics class and, pushing to keep up with the 70-year-old regulars, injured myself.

What I finally figured out is that I can’t compare myself to what I used to do, or what other healthier people do. I have to work up gradually. My Pack Health coach encouraged me to use my pedometer and count my steps. I found an Easy Yoga for Arthritis DVD that is wonderfully gentle. I began going on walks with my husband and hiking on weekends.

Eventually, I hope to get back to those beach body videos I used to get in great shape, but if I don’t, I won’t sweat it. Today I am happy that by making a commitment to moving a little each day, I have created a healthier and less painful life for myself.

Do Something you Love.

What’s made the difference for me, is making friends with exercise. I have found there are many ways to keep moving that don’t feel like a workout. There is nothing I love better than being in my kayak. And with every stroke of my paddle, I feel my shoulders loosening and my hands getting stronger. When I am hiking, I stop and feel the breeze on my face and listen to the birds in the woods. Exercise? It doesn’t feel like it, and yet that’s what it is.

Get Started.

Perhaps you’re at a point where walking and stretching are the best you can do. Parking further away from the store, or walking an extra lap around the grocery store are easy ways to increase your steps. Get up from your desk every 30 minutes for a quick stroll around your office. Stretch while you’re watching your favorite TV show. Your Health Advisor can help you stay motivated and find those everyday activities that work best for you.

If you’re already active, that’s great! Keep it going and perhaps you can even work towards a new fitness goal. But listen to your body. If you feel a flare coming on, slow it down. Let exercise propel you forward, not set you back. And whatever you do, just keep moving!

(Not yet a member? Get connected with a free program for Rheumatoid Arthritis here.)

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