To Exercise, or Not to Exercise
Last updated: June 2023
Every morning I wake up and dread the first movements of the day. I hate waking up and I’m the worst at it (just ask my amazingly-patient husband). I don’t want to open my eyes. I don’t want to move my stiff and achy bones. I don’t even want to contemplate getting out of bed.
My morning routine for joint mobility
My first thought usually is, “I’ll skip my exercises today.” But no, I must not succumb to the sleepy mesmerism of my morning-brain!
I need my stretches after I first wake up to get my joints moving and my muscles awake. The routine begins with ankle circles and moves into leg lifts. My morning exercises are part stretches to get my bones moving and part strength-building involving more challenging movements.
It can be really hard to start my exercises, especially when I’m feeling especially achy. I have to remind myself that my morning routine helps me to manage my rheumatoid arthritis and keep my joints happier overall.
As a high-schooler my parents woke me extra early to do exercises and then a hot whirlpool soak before catching the bus to school. I hated it every morning, yet afterwards I was thankful because it got my body moving better and helped to maintain the relative health of my joints.
Physical therapy adaptations
The last series of physical therapy sessions I had a couple years ago was helpful for learning some exercises for my current abilities that I could adjust for my progression. Over time I have been able to add repetitions and even some weights for some of my exercises.
Although I do other exercises that are more active, my daily morning routine is the foundation of my activity. I’m a big proponent of gentle stretches even when my joints are super achy. Despite the pain of movement, I think not moving at all is very harmful to RA joints. As long as I go slow and easy on the worst days, exercises help to make my flared joints a little more mobile.
Daily and consistent movement
Honestly, I should probably try to work in more gentle exercises throughout the day. I get caught up in what I’m doing and forget to move. Then when I want to stand up I find my joints are cold and cranky. On the days when I remember to work in some stretches or exercises, even at my desk, or some steps in place, then my joints do a little better and don’t get as stiff.
In the evening I work in some arm exercises with weights or do some walking, swimming or a combination. Previously I have also found yoga to be helpful. For many years I took a gentle yoga class where the teacher provided adaptations for my RA limitations. I liked yoga because it was a combination of stretching and also cardiovascular exercises. My standing balance currently isn’t steady enough for yoga, but I’m hoping to eventually work my way back to it.
Managing RA through exercise
If I have one regret about my management of my RA during my lifetime, it is that I could have exercised more. I went through so many periods where I was afraid to exercise or in so much pain that I wouldn’t try. And I wonder sometimes if I did my exercises when I was a kid more often, instead of rebelling against them, would my joints be a tiny bit better? Would I have a little less joint damage and restrictions to my range of motion?
This is all theoretical and I cannot turn back time or hold regrets. Instead I look forward and have adopted a ‘yes’ answer to the question of exercise whenever possible. Even on bad days it helps me to feel a little better.
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