RA Matters and so does your fitness plan

Karen Tsui (Physiotherapist, Advanced Clinician Practitioner in Arthritis Care) and Claire Jefferies (Physiotherapy Clinical Specialist for Hydrotherapy and Rheumatology).

Are you lacking motivation to begin your fitness plan? Explore how small changes to your daily routine can improve your health and wellbeing.

RA can feel like a fulltime job and exercising may falloff our daily priorities list as a result. A properly designed exercise program can help to: improve strength and muscle as well as physical functioning, reduce fat and weight and facilitate psychological well-being.1

So many benefits, so little time!

Participating in a variety of physical activities can really help keep fitness interesting, which in turn can keep you motivated. Here is an example of how you may be able to incorporate exercise into your busy daily life.

Remember, even a short amount of exercise or activity can be beneficial so even on a day when you don't feel 100% still try to do some exercise. You don't have to spend hours doing it, 20 minutes is still worthwhile and may give you that boost of energy that you need.

Like any athlete who starts training, if you are new to exercise make sure you start small and build yourself up over a few weeks. Don't try to run a marathon from the word go! Trying to do too much too quickly can put you off exercise all together if you find it too hard and you are more likely not to carry on – so give yourself a fighting chance to succeed.

Like any athlete who starts training, if you are new to exercise make sure you start small and build yourself up over a few weeks.

If you are returning to exercise, then you need to give yourself a break too! Start slow and focus on what you can do now and not what you use to be able to do – improvements will come if you stick with it.






A gentle way to ease your way into the week could be a few lengths in your local pool. Swimming can help improve your sleep, keep your weight under control and alleviate stress that is sometimes linked with RA.2

Flare day alternative:

Try going for a walk that makes you breatheslightly harder for at least 10 minutes.

Relieve stiffness

Support joints

Encourage joint movement

Build muscle strength


Weather permitting, go for a bike ride.

Cycling is a low-impact exercise or in other words is easier on your joints. It can help improve your cardiovascular fitness and keep your weight under control. Why not take the kids with you as well? 2

Encourage joint movement

Build muscle strength


Reduce stiffness and inflammation


It’s mid-week!

Wednesday is a good day to take a rest and put your feet up.

Well rested

Less fatigued


Fun-friendly and joint-friendly –put your hands up for water aerobics!

On Thursdays, why not leave your gym shoes behind and opt for some colourful swimwear to go to a water aerobics class. Besides being a social activity to get your heart pumping, water exercises can help build muscle strength thanks to the natural resistance the water provides. If you think this exercise is not going to be vigorous enough, do not be fooled!3 Don't be put off by the temperature of the water either! You do not need to exercise in a hydrotherapy pool to be warm – the skill of a water aerobics teacher is to keep your body warm through the exercises that you do.

Flare day alternative:

Walk forwards, backwards, and sideways lengths in the pool at your own pace.


Why not go dancing on a Friday?

Dancing could be a great way to kick-start the weekend. Aerobics dance classes, such as Zumba, are highly energetic and social ways to improve strength and cardio fitness.4

Flare day alternative:

Tai Chi or Pilates



Encourage joint movement and rhythm!



It’s the weekend!

If the weather permits, try going for a walk and discover somewhere new in your local area. Brisk walking is a low-impact exercise that costs you nothing and can be done anywhere.2


Keep weight under control


Day of rest

An alternative way to take a break at the weekend could be to practice Pilates, yoga or tai chi. For those relaxing days, book yourself into a class, or roll out your yoga mat in the living room. Take a deep breath in... and breath out, releasing all the stress from your week.5,6

On to downward dog... loosen up those joints and lengthen and strengthen those muscles. Have you improved flexibility since last week?

Stress reduction


Encourage joint movement

Improve balance


Postural control

Download the perfect fitness plan

Disclaimer! Please do speak with your doctor before venturing into any physically intense activities (e.g. marathons or triathlons), to ensure you find the right activities for you.

References: 1. Cooney J, Law R, Matschke V. Benefits of exercise in rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Aging Research 2011;2011:1-14. 2. Arthritis Society. Rheumatoid arthritis. Accessed May 3, 2018 at: https://www.arthritis.ca/about-arthritis/arthritis-types-(a-z)/types/rheumatoid-arthritis 3. Water Exercises | Arthritis Exercise | Arthritis Foundation [Internet]. Arthritis.org. 2017 [cited 18 April 2017]. Available from: http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/simple-routines/water-walking.php 4. Arthritis Foundation. Dance-based fitness makes working out fun. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/other-activities/dance-fitness.php 5. Arthritis Foundation. Pilates for Arthritis. Accessed May 3, 2018 at: http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/arthritis-friendly/pilates.php 6. ArthritisFoundation. Yoga Benefits for Arthritis. Accessed May 3, 2018 at: http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/yoga/yoga-benefits.php

Life Hack #9

If you feel self-conscious about your swollen joints at the gym, try wearing weight lifting gloves.

Find a physical activity that works for you and your RA.

Life Hack #9

If you feel self-conscious about your swollen joints at the gym, try wearing weight lifting gloves.

Find a physical activity that works for you and your RA.

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