This is a post about my Rheumatoid Arthritis diet and exercises that I use to help alleviate my RA symptoms. It does not constitute medical advice. I am in no way promoting or rejecting treatments available. Please refer to my Disclaimer for further information and please continue to consult a medical professional for your medical conditions.
Working out the Rheuma
Rheumatoid Arthritis Diet and Exercise
I’m going to be discussing top tips on exercising with RA, even though I have titled this post Rheumatoid Arthritis diet and exercise. The reason for this is the two go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other just like weight loss. You can’t effectively lose weight and keep it off unless you do a combination of exercise and altering your diet. If you apply that thinking to RA, it is the same. You cannot move your body to strengthen and mobilise your joints only to then inflame them by eating the wrong foods.
Before I begin, I am going to give you a bit of background.
About 12 years ago I went on this lifestyle change journey – divorce will do that to you. I wanted that “revenge body” and within a year, I lost over 30kgs (70lb). I did that by working out and altering my diet.
I’m conscious of not saying diet because dieting and altering your diet are two different things. Dieting to me is excluding foods and a short term solution. Altering your diet is substitution of foods. It’s also a long term solution and a process of educating yourself about what foods can do for your body. Why am I telling you this? I’m not telling you this because I turned into an organic rabbit because I didn’t. I am a food lover and love to eat. Anything to do with food is hard for me but it is possible to love food and have a healthy diet.
When I was first diagnosed with RA, I did actually try to turn into that organic rabbit in order to heal myself. Not only did that not work, it left me utterly depressed. When I’m depressed, I eat because I am very much an emotional eater. I eat when I’m happy, I eat when I’m sad and I eat when I’m bored.
When I finally got onto the right meds, I started to feel myself again. However, I was still not in the right frame of mind in terms of what I was eating. As far as I was concerned, I was finally feeling happy again and not depressed by chronic pain. In my mind, I was happy so I was just going to eat what I wanted. However, what I wanted more and what was going to make me truly happy was to be active again.
This is what I did:
In the past 12 years, I have been an extremely active person. I started off as a gym junkie. I was often spending 5 days a week, 2 hours a day doing TRX with my personal trainer. That was after doing a 10km (6mi) run for a warm up. After I got bored of the gym life, I moved onto MMA training. I continued to train for 5 days a week doing kickboxing and Jiu Jitsu. Pre-RA, I also competed in BJJ. I also started pole dancing, not for money, but for fitness and strength. No-one will pay to see me pole dance). You wouldn’t believe how much strength is required for pole dancing, it is seriously hard stuff! Anyhow, being active was my life. I just loved it because it made me feel young, energetic, strong and invincible.
In my early days of RA before meds and while waiting for the meds to kick in, I couldn’t do anything. I’m sure you’re all very familiar with that feeling. I couldn’t do anything let alone exercise but I wanted to so badly. The pain was so excruciating but I was determined to get back to where I was and I was ready to do anything to get there.
What you can do
It took a long time to get there but it feels fantastic to now finally be back into training. I’m going to tell you how I did it because you can do it too with my better lifestyle tips. But first, I’m going to tell you the best exercises for rheumatoid arthritis. Just in case pole dancing and martial arts is not your thing, you can try:
Walking – Walking is a great whole body exercise, has so many benefits and you can do it for as little or as long as you want. It is also great for your mental health.
Water exercises – Water is a fantastic exercise regime and gentle on your joints. You don’t necessarily have to go to the swimming pool, you can do exercises in your bath tub or even in the shower.
Yoga/Tai Chi/Aerobics – I love these exercises because they can be modified for anybody. Did you know these can be done in a seated position? Check out my free stretch and exercise program here.
TRX – This is my favourite exercise equipment. It was designed by the U.S Army but don’t let that put you off because it was designed to be used anytime, anywhere. It is suspension training and using your body weight as resistance so you are in complete control of it’s intensity. I use it daily for standing stretches and some gentle weight bearing exercises.
Fitball – There is so much you can do with a fit ball! You can use it for stability, core and aerobic exercises. I use it often to stretch my back or up against the wall to massage my shoulders. The possibilities are endless!
Resistance Bands – Resistance bands are so versatile and can be used by anyone regardless of fitness level. You can use them to stretch or to strengthen. These bands allow you to be in complete control of the intensity of your workout.
Stretching – Stretching is a form of exercise and is great for targeting certain areas. Any stretching you do will improve muscle and joint elasticity, control, flexibility and range of motion.
I use all of these techniques and equipment in my videos. There are also videos that use no equipment at all. Check out my new Stretch and Exercise Program here!
What is Functional Exercises?
It doesn’t matter what exercises you do so long as you do it and that it is FUNCTIONAL. Functional exercises are exercises that improve your performance of daily physical tasks with ease, efficiency, strength, control and without risk of pain or injury. Functional exercises are full-body integrated movements with upper body actions being performed in conjunction with the lower body. Whatever you choose, here are my top tips for maximising your exercises:
Have music – Music has the proven magical ability to sway our emotions. Have you got a song that just makes you want to move or sing? I have plenty! Music that makes you move is great motivation and songs that make you sing are great distractions.
Listen to your body –
If you just need to rest, then rest. Do what you’re able but don’t push yourself too far. If your body is screaming for you to stop, then stop. When I train, I go for as long and as hard as I can but once my body says ‘no more’, then I stop.
Conversely, if you know you can get up and walk to the kitchen to get a drink then do it. Don’t ask anyone to do it for you if you can do it yourself. Any movement, even incidental, is movement so move when you can because moving your joints is important and a crucial part of the treatment process. No-one knows your body better than you. You know what you can do and what you can’t do.
Take your time –
Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? The moral lesson of that story was that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly so if you need to take a break, then take a break. Even walking up the stairs at night, I have to take breaks sometimes and that’s OK. Don’t feel like doing 30 minutes in one hit? That’s fine! Doing a little in the morning, a little in the afternoon and a little at night is just as effective.
Taking my time was the key to my success in returning to training. I believed that I was going to get there so I wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardise my return and waited for months until my body told me it was ready. Even now, in all my training sessions, I let my trainers know that I will need regular breaks and I take them whenever my body tells me to.
Start small –
For a long time, all I could do was walk for maybe 2 minutes at a time, this built to 15 minutes, now I can do a half hour and if it’s cold, I am sometimes motivated to break into a little jog. When I returned to training, I didn’t just jump in but slowly tested the waters first. In my first session back, I bowed out after 10 minutes and have now built up to an hour with regularly breaks.
Have a goal –
Having a goal will help you to extend a little more without overdoing it and encourage you to stay consistent with your exercise. Having a goal will also give you some direction of where you want to go short term and long term.
I don’t believe there is any rheumatoid arthritis exercises to avoid other than the ones that cause you discomfort or joint pain. The important thing is to find something you enjoy, can stick to and can be modified for your needs. For example, I find that doing an hour of intensive kickboxing less strenuous than walking 30 minutes. On top of that, I enjoy it. I also modify my training so instead of doing head kicks, I do leg kicks and instead of doing push-ups when everyone else is doing push-ups, I plank on my elbows because anything that involves bending my wrists is a no-go zone. It doesn’t matter to me that my fellow fighters see me get down and up from the floor like an 80 year old. I have learnt to appreciate the little things!
Celebrate every milestone –
Focus on the things you’re able to do and give yourself some credit for being able to do it. Remember when you were bedridden and could barely move? I remember it like it was yesterday. Today you might just be able walk to the letter box. That’s a win!
Fuel your body –
Your body is an engine that works best on premium fuel. Premium fuel cleans out your tank as well as giving it optimum power. The opposite happens when you put the cheap stuff like processed foods into your tank. There is nothing wrong with occasionally putting in the cheap stuff when you’re running low on funds or time poor so long as you don’t do it consistently. In saying this, there are rheumatoid arthritis foods to avoid such as inflammatory foods but that is different for everyone and a symptoms tracker is great to find out what foods are causing your inflammatory.
There is no proven rheumatoid arthritis diet cure that works for everyone so I can’t tell you how to cure rheumatoid arthritis permanently because there is no known cure that has been proven. However, I can tell you that the best food for rheumatoid arthritis, which are the ones that will reduce your inflammation and arthritis symptoms. They are the ones with high anti-inflammatory properties. You can read more about nutrition here for rheumatoid arthritis here.
I often get asked, can you live a normal life with rheumatoid arthritis? The answer is yes! I am definitely proof of that. Living with rheumatoid arthritis successfully and pain management is possible with the right combination of rheumatoid arthritis diet and exercise plus medication. However, it is a daily thing, there is no quick fix. You have to do it every day. Every day, tell yourself, yes I’m going to do it, I am going to follow my rheumatoid arthritis diet and exercise program. You can download my daily diet and exercise checklist for free here to help you.
Those on The Rheuma Mill would love to hear about how you manage your rheumatoid arthritis diet and exercise routine so please leave a comment below.
There are so many products available to help you follow a rheumatoid arthritis diet and exercise program. I personally use compression gloves, ankle strap and heated/cooler pads for post exercise. You can read more about rheumatoid arthritis nutrition here.