To exercise, or not to exercise? That is the question, fellow RA’ers.
The problem is, when you don’t feel good, there is no way in heck you’re gonna do anything active. And when people suggest to us that we would feel better if only we would exercise, we get offended. “Do you see my joints? Do you know how much they hurt? I’m not hoping in a pool anytime soon, no matter how much you promise me it’ll help.” That’s usually our take on exercise.
I’ve been pretty closed-minded about exercise. I put limitations on myself that I didn’t even know were true or not. “Swim for an hour? I’d probably pass out of exhaustion after ten minutes, maybe. Hike up a mountain? You know how much that’d kill my knees? I can’t do that.”
It is important for us to listen to our bodies when we hurt. If we are performing an activity and something begins to hurt, it’s time to stop. But we can’t assume things are going to be bothersome. It’s when we put more limitations on ourselves than necessary that we start to let the RA control us.
Since the beginning of the new semester, I’ve been trying to become more active. And it’s easier to make myself follow through because I have an active roommate this year. Every opportunity I had to go swimming, I went. And it felt really great to move around freely without feeling any pain or stiffness.
Yesterday we tried to go swimming again, but with the rainy season upon us in Arkansas, it was way to cold to feel comfortable swimming at all. Instead, I remembered a recent visit to my new (and improved) rheumatologist. She explained the importance of exercising, and that her patients that exercise and much better in the long run than her patients that do not. She said it was the difference in whether or not those patients could walk or not. My rheumatologist told me not to run, EVER, but to swim and to ride a bike.
As a kid, riding my bike was my absolute FAVORITE activity. I took pride in my bicycle. Every so often I would even clean it (I thought I was so cool!). The thought of starting the sport again was exciting to me.
When the pool was too cold to swim in, my roommate and I ventured over to our university’s recreational center. We found the stationary bikes and plopped down. I started limiting myself immediately, without evening thinking about it. “I’ll probably have to take breaks pretty frequently,” I said. “I’ll probably only go two minutes at first.”
I started without any resistance and found it boring. The machine was kind of complicated so it took me a while to figure out how to change the resistance, but once I did I set it to five instead of one. It was just challenging enough for me. I watched the clock slowly tick away on the machine, and I didn’t feel any pain coming. Next thing I knew I had biked three miles! My muscles were tight, but there was no pain whatsoever.
I was AMAZED.
Apparently I didn’t exercise long enough, because my muscles aren’t even sore today (although my Dad said it could creep up on me late tonight or tomorrow, so I’m skipping the bike today until I figure out if it will or not). I haven’t felt any bike-related pain. I remember my elbows hurting during dinner last night, along with a few other random joints, but nothing that could have been derived from the workout.
I’m not saying exercise is for everyone, and I can’t promise that you’ll feel as great after the workout as I do. If you have any swelling I would definitely talk to a rheumatologist before trying any activity involving that joint. But if you haven’t tried exercise, don’t write it off. It’s worth the try. That way if it doesn’t work, you can cross it off the list of things to try. But if it DOES work…wouldn’t you want to know?
I’ve been swimming as often as I can since the beginning of school, so about three weeks. It may take you that long or longer to see any benefits, but if exercising doesn’t irritate your joints, keep at it!
So I guess to answer the “Great Debate” – it will help some, it won’t help others. But the main thing to remember in this argument is that you never know until you try.