Diminishing Returns of Exercise

I very much feel and know the importance of quality exercise for best maintenance of me and my rheumatoid arthritis. The RA is less fierce when I get my regular (preferably daily) exercise. While I have a number of options that help me, the best is aquatic therapy.

Getting less out of exercise over time

But I am also well aware that there are diminishing returns for my exercise. By this, I mean that I will get less and less out of it over time. For instance, I’m not going to become a marathon runner or mountain climber. Mostly because I can’t walk much and my balance is terrible. I’m not going to become a competitive athlete of any sport unless they decide to make napping competitive.

I know that I can work and work and work at my exercise and there are limits to what I will be able to achieve. However, because I feel the benefits of exercise on my RA and overall health, to me that is what makes exercise all the more important.

The hardest worker in the pool

Recently, I was in the pool working away at my routine and my husband Richard was chatting with a lady who has just finished up swimming laps. He noted jokingly (but also seriously) that she and I were the hardest working people in the pool.

While most of the community members visiting the pool relax on the deck or float in the water, we both show up every day to do our exercise. She swims so many laps that I lose count, while I walk in laps, pump my arms with water weights, and kick my legs for my 40-minute exercise routine. Her exercise is objectively harder compared to mine — but, my routine is what works for me.

My effort and attitude are what matter

Richard says that my exercises may look easier, but they are challenging to me and that the effort I put into them is what matters. For me, I am looking to gain (in not at least maintain) as much strength as possible and to ward off the RA that attacks me when I am inactive.

I think my attitude about exercise is really what matters. I know what I want to achieve from it and I don’t expect unrealistic results. I have always been willing to put in the work, but I don’t think I always understood what to expect.

Learning how to manage expectations with exercise

As a child, my physical therapist would work my joints and assign exercises at home. They always said I needed to exercise to ward off the advancement of RA. But I didn’t believe them because I hurt anyway. The disease got worse anyway. Nothing I did seemed to matter. And when all the exercises hurt to do, it was very demotivating to do anything.

What I needed to know was that the exercise wasn’t going to stop (or even slow) the RA. But, it would help me to feel better if I could move and exercise in fun ways that didn’t hurt. So much of the repetitive motions made my joints hurt even worse. Additionally, they were boring!

I get what I need out of my exercise

But when I got into the water, it was a revelation. Moving was fun! I could do an exercise activity that didn’t make my joints hurt and that I also enjoyed. It was a game-changer. I may not always be able to do my exercise in the pool, but it helped me to learn that I can find exercise methods that don’t hurt, do help, and can be enjoyable (or at least not so boring).

When I get into the pool, I sometimes joke to Richard that I should train for the walking-in-the-pool-water Olympics. I laugh because I will never be an athlete (at least in other people’s eyes), but I get what I need out of my exercises and that is all that truly matters.

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