A man with a large checklist checking off his new years resolutions

New Year's Resolutions and Exercising With RA

Guess what time it is?

Yes, it's the New Year, and that means — you guessed it — the dreaded New Year’s resolutions.

Every year, society bands together and conspires to make you feel guilty about abandoning or not achieving your goals from the year before. Well, imagine that plus trying to live with RA and chronic illness — something that can make you fail on a regular basis. It’s a recipe for disaster, to be sure.

Above all else, though, there is one New Year’s resolution that takes the top spot among all others: getting in shape, losing weight, and ultimately, exercising.

Yes, people with RA exercise

I hear you saying, "Wait, chronically ill people exercise?" Yes, we do! We also work, go to parties, and — gasp — have sex! Not all at the same time, though.

Yes, people with RA exercise, and some even swear by it to make their joints less stiff and less painful in the mornings. Me, well, I sort of have a love/hate relationship with exercising, as you can imagine. But after 5 years — yes, I said 5 — of trial and error, I found a method that works to help lessen the chance of getting hurt and increase the chances of getting some benefit, and I’m here to share it with you.

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Using the S.T.O.P. method for exercise with RA

As with all good methods, I have reduced it to an acronym. It’s called the S.T.O.P. method for exercising with RA, so let me break it down.

S: Stop

S — the first letter — stands for, well, "stop." I know, I know, it’s a little on the nose, but there’s a reason it’s first.

Before you even begin exercising, you need to stop and take stock. First, you need to decide what your goals are. Is it to just get a little bit more movement? Is it to get your heart rate up a bit? Or is it full-blown, Arnold Schwarzenegger-style muscle-building? Decide what your goals are and be honest with yourself about what your capabilities are. I mean, after all, we have an illness that affects our joints.

T: Time

T, the next letter, stands for "time." Yes, time, the old resource that you just can’t get any more of — but in this case, it’s not more of it you need, but more you need to use up. You have to allow yourself time to build a routine and wait for results.

For me, my body responds at about 1/3 the speed of a "healthy" body, which also means any gains or benefits I would get from exercising are going to take 3 times as long. I won’t lie, it’s likely to be discouraging and make you want to stop when you don’t see those "perfect abs in 6 weeks" that you keep seeing advertised on YouTube after searching for "abs brakes" once on Google 15 years ago. But it’s a marathon, folks, not a sprint. Or, really, it’s like 15 marathons in a row, so settle in and give yourself time.

O: Overdoing

O is for "overdoing," as in don’t. I’ll let you in a little secret: Once you get into a routine of working out, you will want to do it more. I don’t know if it’s endorphins, or finally seeing benefits, or even the potential increase in energy, but once you start exercising regularly you are more than likely going to want to do it more, and more, and more and more and... well, you get it. You’re going to want to push that extra rep, walk that extra mile, and try that heavy kettlebell.

I’m here to tell you not to do that! Overdoing it is going to hurt you and set you back every single time. Not only that, but you can injure yourself, maybe permanently, and that’s never going to be good. Don’t push things, even at the end of your regular exercise when you are feeling amazing and full of energy and flooded with good brain chemicals. Just revel in the satisfaction of a job well done and go and have your post-exercise shake or sandwich or tub of ice cream.

P: Pause

Finally, there’s P, which is what I consider to be the most important letter, as it stands for "pause." Here is the most important thing you can take in from my method: If anything feels off, hurts, is extra stiff, twinges with pain, or if any single part of your body does literally anything out of the ordinary — I don’t care if your eyebrow twitches — pause whatever you are doing and go and sit down. Stop the exercise for the day, maybe for the week, or even for the month. Pause your exercise until you feel 100 percent confident that whatever weird thing happened has been resolved to your full satisfaction.

It’s not just a recommendation, folks. It’s literally the only way many of us can do exercise. If we don’t listen to our bodies when they say, "Hmm, that feels strange," then the next thing our bodies might says is, "Oh, dear God, that hurts worse than a hot poker in the behind!" Trust me, you don’t want to feel that second one because you ignored the first. Any time you are not feeling up to it or you just don’t have the energy, pause and leave it for another day.

This or That

Do you want Daniel's example exercises with the S.T.O.P. Method?

A method that's helped me exercise

That’s the S.T.O.P. method that I’ve developed over the last few years, and it’s helped me to exercise enough to lose some weight and build a little muscle. We can get into specific exercises that I do another time, but for now, when you make that New Year's resolution to get in shape, please take heed and benefit from my experience! Happy New Year and talk soon!

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