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The costs of exertion

The Costs of Exertion

When I moved into my first apartment, I quickly learned the meaning of “cost of exertion” every time I had to do laundry. The process would take me nearly all day, involving a full weekend if you also included the recovery time from lifting, transferring, folding, and putting my clothes away.

What most people think of as a basic task blew me out of the water. Between having limited reach and strength, doing laundry would run my energy well dry and then some.

Immediately I had to reconsider my priorities. What was the cost of this task and could I pay a different price rather than one of time and energy?

To this day, considering the cost of exertion is a priority for my everyday life.

First, I learned that I could either hire someone to do the laundry or I could send it out with a service. To me, this was very worthwhile because I didn’t spend a day doing a task I don’t enjoy and also another day trying to recover from it. My laundry was done quickly and easily by someone else and to me the bill was worth the investment.

When I really think about it, just about any task I undertake involves more exertion than most people have to think about. Getting ready in the morning involves time and patience because my joints are stiff and slow. Basic tasks are harder because I can’t stand for long at one time or need a bench to sit in my shower.

Obviously, many tasks are worth the exertion. Showering may take effort, but I am glad for the warm water on my joints and for making myself presentable to leave the house. While I don’t cook as much anymore (thanks to my husband, Richard!), I do enjoy it and don’t mind spending my energy this way.

On the flip side, many times strangers assume that I don’t have the ability to work, get out in my community, and be an active person. I try to patiently explain that despite my rheumatoid arthritis and subsequent disability, I do in fact have a life. While I may grapple with the illness, the cost of exertion does not deny me the ability to live fully.

Increasingly I am thinking about energy. How do I conserve energy? How do I prioritize what’s important to maximize my energy resources? How do I measure costs of exertion and keep a balance that works for me?

Sometimes it is a struggle—there are days where I cannot win. But other days the daily costs are not bad and I work a full day, come home to my husband and have energy to spare for him, my family, and friends. These are the best days!

But I do need to respect the cost of exertion and understand it. I have to recognize where I lose the most energy and find solutions to make these exhausting tasks even a little bit easier. Assistive devices, tricks or techniques, and careful planning can all help with managing or minimizing exhaustion.

One huge game changer for me was when I started using a wheelchair. While we had avoided it as long as possible, when I did start to use one it made a huge difference in conserving my energy. I was able to do more throughout the day by getting help with an activity (walking) that really drained me and also caused me pain.

What are the costs of exertion that you experience throughout the day? What tactics have you tried to help minimize or manage these costs?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Jubi Mac
    3 years ago

    This is my first time to write. As I read your post I could relate. I’ve been diagnosed with RA since I was 27 & I have been blessed with knowledgable physicians that took good care of me. Now, I have had 2 knee replacements in the past 6 years and am scheduled for an upcoming hip replacement. Today I am so exhausted I can go very far without sitting or laying down. Because my hip is so gone the knee is swelling really bad and I’m in severe pain in the knee, back & hip. I am so depressed. I have only been married 4 years and feel my husband really is tired of seeing me this way. He hardly acknowledges that I am in pain, not that I really need it…. I just am feeling really down.

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Jubi Mac, Sorry to hear about your pain and exhaustion. Many in our community can relate to feeling down and depressed when fatigue and pain are high. Glad this article resonated with you and hopefully reminded you that you are not alone. Have you spoken to your doctor about how you’re feeling? In addition to speaking with your doctor, these articles may be helpful to you:
    Managing Emotions and Stress with RA:
    I’m So Tired Of Fatigue:
    and RA and Depression:
    Wishing you some relief soon and a successful hip surgery. Please let us know your questions and keep us posted on how you are doing. We’re here to support you in this. Kelly, Team Member

  • Carley
    3 years ago

    I try to find a balance between what I reasonably know I can accomplish and what needs to be accomplished. Minimizing the gap between those two things keeps me sane. My days lying in bed are more frequent than I would like but I’m always learning ways to cope and make life better.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    3 years ago

    Thanks for writing Carley. I happen to be the husband of the author, Kelly Mack, and I can attest that there are the ups and downs and always the learning. Here is an article from one of our other contributors on learning the balance between rallying and pushing too hard and finding the right balance: Best, Richard ( Team)

  • Ntaylor
    3 years ago

    So true! I “budget” my energy in so many ways that cost $$$. A housekeeper, a gardener, and someone to help with my pets. Being fortunate enough to afford this help allows me to have a social and volunteer life. I know not everyone can.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    3 years ago

    Thanks Ntaylor–good ideas and points. Important to get help however we can! 🙂 Best, Kelly

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