Motivating Myself To Move 

It’s the time of year most of us feel more like cuddling inside than taking a walk in the cold. Putting on ten layers of clothes and heavy boots is a lot less exciting than slapping on sandals and shorts before heading out the door. And then there is the pain: winter-time can be a tough time of year, pain-wise for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Waking up aching all over makes it a lot harder to feel excited about exercising.

Trying swimming for RA

When I was young my doctor told my parents that swimming would be a good way for me to exercise with less pain. My Mom loved that idea, and about once a week she would ask, “Kathryn, will you come to the YMCA with me and go to the pool?” Inside I would cringe while I’d agree- when it comes to swimming I take after my Dad, who swims only when necessary, instead of my Mom, who I’m convinced is part mermaid. When we got there, I’d always be glad I’d agreed- once I had managed to get in the pool and start swimming my body felt so much better and I was always happy I’d pushed myself to go. My Mom would thank me for coming- she’d say “Thanks so much for joining me, I had a great time!” Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I’d remember it the next time she asked.

Catch 22: Exercising hurts, but exercise helps

Living with rheumatoid arthritis can mean that moving hurts, and it also means that moving is important. Moving lubricates our joints, keeps the muscles and tendons surrounding our joints strong, and can decrease pain. Study after study has shown just how helpful regular exercise is, not just for RA, but for overall health. Once I left my parents’ house and set out on my own I decided to do everything I could to help myself feel good with arthritis and I knew regular exercise was integral for that to happen. I got a bicycle and started riding. Bike riding had always been an equalizer for me as a kid- swimming, tennis, soccer, softball, skiing were all activities I did at some point but it was only when I hopped on a bike that I could keep up.

Biking with RA

I was an avid rider for over ten years, and it brought me a physical confidence I’d never known before. I joined bike clubs and spent weekends exploring the back roads of Salt Lake City where I was living. And then everything changed; the JRA grabbed hold of me and I went into a monstrous flare-up that lasted for years. Lifting my leg high enough to straddle my bike was an exercise in frustration, and if I could manage that, bending my swollen knees enough to pedal was often impossible. On days that I could manage that, I would pray I didn’t have to stop because it was so painful, and awkward, to get going again. It was time to try something else, something that would be even easier on my body, and my mind wandered to the YMCA sessions with my Mom.

So, I vowed to go to the pool before work twice a week and swim laps. A few weeks went by before I actually got there and dipped my toes tentatively in the pool as I watched, what looked like the Olympic swimming team, swim back and forth. I saw one lane with an elderly woman and I joined her. It only took her one lap to pass me, and I had flashbacks of swimming class when I was the only kid on the kickboard who went backwards, instead of forward, because of my awkward kicking style. I put my head down, kept going, and to my surprise I started having fun. When I left the pool that day to go to work I felt energized, with less pain weighing me down.

I can’t say that I ever took to swimming laps like a duck takes to water, but I did get to the pool twice a week, as I had promised myself. And it helped me in more ways than one to feel my body moving again. Not only did it lower my pain and make my joints more mobile, it also boosted my confidence and reminded me that even when my JRA takes something from me, there is always something new to fill that space. These days when I’m looking out the window and watching the snow fly, I remember how it feels once I start moving. When I strap on my boots to take a walk, or hop on my stationary bicycle, I thank my body for hanging in there with me all these years, and I thank myself for finding the motivation to move.

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