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The Walking Dilemma

If you have RA, or OA, or are of any active age you have heard time worn sayings like “move it or lose it”, right? When it comes to my RA, sayings like these really grate me the wrong way. People throw them around like they are the cure for everything and if I’m not abiding by oral law then obviously I’ll stay sick.

That being said, I actually believe in “move it or lose it”. I, primarily, work from home so I often sit for stretches at a time. The longer I sit the more stiff I get. I have to shake it out frequently and get in a few steps or I clench up like the tin man.

Walking for rheumatoid arthritis

Before my recent flare, I climbed pretty regularly and it helped me stay limber and flare-free. I haven’t kept up with it so I decided to walk! I know, blasphemy!! After all, I’m vehemently against treadmills or gyms of any kind.

Affie, my eldest dog, has congestive heart disease so she needs as much exercise she can tolerate. That means less time in the yard barking and more on a leash, strutting her stuff. This means someone needs to be on the end of that leash. Guess who that “someone” is? Me.

So, I get off my bottom and hit the asphalt. Even though Affie is small she walks fast and she will not amble. She hits the streets and takes off. As we got her used to walks we only went out for a block or two but quickly built her tolerance. Her exercise tolerance is even greater than it was before her heart swelled up!

Almost every doctor in any specialty will agree that exercise is a great anti-inflammatory. Hey, I have an inflammatory disease! It stands to reason that if I walk then I should have less inflammation, right?

There’s one thing I’ve noticed and has created a very fine line: my walking speed.

The walking dilemma

It’s important to note the following only makes sense when I’m well. If I am flared I have no choice but to move like a sloth or use an aid.

Through our twice daily walks I found that walking slowly is not only more painful in the moment but upsets my body later. The faster I walk, the better I feel now and then. And (of course), I wonder why.

Each dog has a unique gait based on species and body type. They walk or run at a speed that is comfortable to them. Affie has a quick-motioned, streamlined gait. Mocha trots amicably. It stands to reason that humans are the same way! (Yes, I have learned everything through observing animals). I walk fast.

Theoretically, I am supposed to move slowly, gingerly and preserve my joints but it just doesn’t feel good. I have to walk quickly. It feels better and less strenuous. I feel more balanced and agile. Am I doing damage to my joints by moving briskly (I like to think, nimbly) or am I actually doing myself a favor in the long run? It makes sense I do what’s comfortable because symptoms = RA activity while no symptoms = going strong!

Is that weird? Am I weird? Let me know in the comments if you have ever noticed anything like this before!

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.


  • ashdb1990
    10 months ago

    Thank you for pointing out feeling like the tin man. That’s exactly how I’ve been describing myself for the past 3+ years. Walking is difficult for me as my feet, ankles & knees feel as if they’re going to break if I put too much pressure
    on them or move them the wrong way. I have to use a cane when walking now because of balance issues. And, having an autoimmune disease, each day has it’s own challenges as a different body part or joint can flair up at will. It’s frustrating.
    I am also in the process of learning to not be a clock watcher & slowing down each day to a speed that is more accommodating to my needs. I have to accept that I cannot continue to live in the world’s fast paced environment. I realized stress/anxiety are my biggest enemies in regards to my health & RA. I can no longer be put in a box to compete with others. Things I do in a day have lessened. I may function at a slower pace, but I am learning (or re-learning) to do things in my own time.
    I feel we all need to start re-examining ourselves so we can be truthful in our changing abilities & stop trying to conform to society’s time clock.

  • Indigo2
    10 months ago

    yes, walking speed depends upon flare & pain, which it is very difficult to walk…or no flare & able to walk…weather also affects joints…so, yes, walk when & if you can!

  • Beverly
    10 months ago

    I have never left a comment before, but… this is ME! This is exactly the dilemma I face every day. Are we weird? I don’t know, but I will keep walking at what my friend called my “mile-eating stride” for as long as I can!

  • mseelhoff
    10 months ago

    Yes, my UHC Insurance pays me to walk. I walk between 9-18 miles a day. Despite Seronegative Ra and OA in my hips-and si joints. Motion is lotion for me. I hardly sit down. Vectra says I am 44 or very moderate. I talk 4 a Sulfasalazine a day and Kenzara. The shot wears off in 7 days. I walk pretty darn fast. I hurt= I walk. I do everything right- skinny, atleast the doctor says, eat a ton of fruit yet I am getting worse. Not much I do-but walk and ride my horse!

  • spljoy
    10 months ago

    No you are not crazy. A recent study of Sjogren’s patients found that walking was not detrimental but rather, beneficial. I suspect speed does vary by person and for me it varies by the day. Some days I feel ready to do a 15 minute mile others not so much. I have even started doing intervals, which I never thought I would be able to do, but on good days they work.

  • MareV
    10 months ago

    I am glad to see this read. I have gotten out of breath when walking, even as a growing child. I was diagnosed w/RA 5 Yrs. now. I can walk my dog on flat ground and feel ok. If we walk up elevated steps, I start feeling out of breath. When I walk with my adult children at their pace, I get out of breath and feel like my lungs can’t expand enough to get in enough air. Is this something I should be concerned about or am I just out of shape? Thank You!

  • ashdb1990
    10 months ago

    I feel the same way…out of breath if I carry in grocery bags or walking up steps. This is done at a snail’s pace. Being out of shape may be a small part of it. But I’ve been researching this symptom on other RA sites. It is very real & many others experience the same lethargic, breathing hard issues. For me, it feels like having the flu without the congestion or fever. This comes & goes. I’m not sure if this happens to you, but the labored breathing is part of it. Sometimes, just walking into the kitchen or to the bathroom wears me out & I have to stop to catch my breath & calm down. My heart is in good condition (after stress testing) & I don’t appear to have asthma or emphysema. Breathing difficulties are just another symptom. Whatever form of exercise you can do, go for it. Even if it’s walking your dog 5 minutes a couple times a day.

  • Richard Faust moderator
    10 months ago

    Hi MareV. Sorry you are having these issues with getting out of breath. Many people do not realize that RA can impact the lungs. This article from our editorial team looks at some of the potential lung issues: Of course, the amount of exertion required for activities with RA is also simply greater than for other people and might make you out of breath sooner. Your doctor should be able to do some diagnostics to check on any lung issues. Hoping you get some answers soon and, if you like, please feel free to keep us posted on how you are doing. Best, Richard ( Team)

  • lbell62
    10 months ago

    For me to walk fast I find it does help my legs, but I become winded. RA has begun to affect my lungs. I have just begun to use inhalers again. Pulmonology is beginning to look at what is going on suddenly. Why me? Do not have time for this.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    10 months ago

    Hey! The same thing happens to me but I thought it was because I was so out of shape!! I know a couple of my medications affect the lungs but I hadn’t really put those together so thank you for sharing your experience on my article!

    I hope the pulmonologist can help you! All the best, Monica

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    10 months ago

    Not weird at all. I completely understand. The words move it or lose it were not written by a person who walks less than 3 miles per hour.

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