Best Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Research shows that exercise helps ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis. Here are the best exercises for RA.

1. Best Exercises for Rheumatoid Arthritis
When you’re in pain and feel fatigued, being physically active may be the last thing on your mind. But research shows that exercise helps to relieve rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms and improve day-to-day functioning. Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program and incorporate a mix of flexibility, range of motion, aerobic and strengthening exercises. Here are some ways to get moving.
2. Reach for the Sky or Your Toes
Stretching is one of the best ways to reduce stiffness and maintain range of motion, and should be part of every exercise program. Start with a 3- to 5-minute warm-up — you can march in place and pump your arms either sitting or standing. Then stretch and hold different muscles and joints for 10 to 20 seconds before releasing.

Helps with: flexibility, range of motion
3. Walk This Way
Walking is a low-impact exercise that’s great for your joints, heart and mood. And you can do it almost anywhere. Start off slow and increase your pace and distance safely over time. Make sure to stay hydrated and wear proper shoes.

Helps with: aerobic conditioning and mood
4. Follow Flowing Movements
Yoga and tai chi are ancient practices that combine deep breathing, gentle, flowing movement, poses and meditation. Studies show that both practices have great benefits for people with RA. The Arthritis Foundation offers yoga and tai chi DVDs, all specifically designed for people with arthritis.

Helps with: flexibility, range of motion, balance, stress
5. Work Out in Water
Aquatic exercises are especially gentle on painful joints because water helps to support your weight, which reduces joint stress, and exercising in warm water helps to reduce stiffness. Water also provides a natural resistance so you can get an aerobic and strengthening workout. Use water weights for more of a challenge. Look for a water exercise program in your area that's specifically designed for people with arthritis.

Helps with: flexibility, range of motion, aerobic conditioning, strength
6. Try Bike Riding
Having RA puts you at a greater risk of cardiovascular disease so it’s important to get your heart pumping. A stationary bike is a safe way to get your heart and joints moving and relieve stiffness.

Helps with: range of motion, aerobic conditioning, endurance, leg strength
7. Build Strength
Take stress off weakened joints by strengthening the muscles around them. Weight or strength training is a great way — but proper form is key. Get guidance from a physical therapist who works with people who have arthritis.

Helps with: strength, aerobic conditioning
8. Exercising While in a Flare
While there are numerous benefits to being physically active, it’s important to avoid added discomfort or injury. Listen to your body to choose the right pace. It’s better to do three 10-minute sessions rather than a 30-minute session if you want to exercise while experiencing a flare.
9. Pay Attention to the Small Things
While most exercises focus on large muscle groups, don't forget to make time for hands and fingers as RA can cause severe hand dysfunction. Hand flexibility and strengthening exercises include bending wrists up and down, slowly curling fingers closed one knuckle at a time and spreading fingers wide while placed flat on a table.
10. Accessorize Before You Exercise
Get the most out of your workout by choosing clothing and equipment that promote comfort, stability and enjoyment. Protect balance with proper shoes, prevent falls with a slip-resistant yoga mat and help the time go while listening to your favorite tunes on your iPod.
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