Feel the Burn

Did you know that research indicates that hard workouts can help joints with rheumatoid arthritis to feel better? In fact, new research findings described in Prevention magazine (“Giving Your Joints a Beating to Ache Less,” December 2015) say that even active and intense exercise helps and does not damage joints with RA.  Indicators for pain-causing inflammation were reduced by nearly 40% after 10 weeks of 30-minute cycling intervals twice a week.

I took this to heart when I realized my recent inability to exercise was also contributing to not feeling well. Since the weather started turning cold, I have been struggling more with aches, stiffness, and exhaustion. It also doesn’t help that I’ve been working long hours and several evenings set aside for swimming were taken over by extra hours at the office.

This has got to stop, I told myself. It’s bad enough that work demands have been taking over my life, I cannot let this continue to drain my health as well. I have to prioritize exercise and rest so that I am well enough to work.

I know that I typically experience a downturn in the winter, but I can’t say that it has been terribly cold yet. Additionally, I feel like I’ve needed a lot of extra rest and sleep during the weekend. Wracking my brain, I asked myself what I could do to feel better. Then I saw the Prevention article—the timely reminder that I needed to be exercising more, even on days when I don’t feel up to it.

So many times I get to the end of my day and think “I don’t possibly have energy for anything else.” But why am I prioritizing others’ needs before mine? Can’t I save a little energy to get into the pool and do the therapy that keeps my joints feeling better?

I just went a stretch of four consecutive days doing my aqua therapy. Guess what? I feel better! My joints are less stiff and achy. Sure, it can tire me out, but it also gives me some energy to be able to move. Unfortunately, my schedule will not allow for this level of consistency, but even three days a week would be helpful. On off days, I can do a little walking or work with weights at home.

It can be painful to exercise and hard to get started. Sometimes I am not sure. Should I push myself? Should I just go to bed and rest? But when I get my swimming in, my joints feel less foggy.

I think I needed both the reminder of the benefits of exercise and the reassurance from research that exercise will not cause more damage to my RA. Of course, besides my chronic illness, there’s a lot of other reasons to exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. We all need to keep extra weight off to minimize added pressure on our joints. And it also is good for heart health!

As much as I can do to ward off complications and other conditions, I need to take those actions. Eat well. Exercise. Sleep. Prevent infection and other illnesses.

So before I even begin thinking about New Year’s resolutions, I’m recommitting myself to feel the burn and get in my exercise. I’m prioritizing my health first. It’s like what they say during the emergency preparation instructions before airplane take off: put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. I’m heading to the pool first for my swimming therapy.

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