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Rheumatoid arthritis and the benefits of exercise

A person with Rheumatoid arthritis in the hands

There are many forms of arthritis, and the aim of exercise is to reduce pain. Though there are "guidelines" in place from trusted health organisations, the real deal is appropriate exercise for the individual. This takes into account a persons severity of arthritis and current physical ability.. other possible health conditions and lifestyle.

One type of arthritis is Rheumatoid arthritis which is a chronic inflammatory disease caused by the inflamation of the synovial membrane. (A swollen joint capsule). A point to note is that Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age and the level of severity can vary greatly. Women are also more commonly affected than men.

Smaller joints like in the hands, feet, ankles, elbows and wrists..... even the fingers can be affected. There are many theories as to why Rheumatoid arthritis would occur in the first place and here are a few..

Auto-immune condition.

A bacterial or viral infection.


Usually as with many health conditions, any improvement is unlikely without exercise intervention. Early intervention is important to manage and ultimately reduce discomfort and pain.

So. What are the benefits of exercise?


Stable joints are stronger joints, and having stronger joints helps to control movement and helps to keep the joints better protected. It is the soft tissue and muscles that surround a joint that provide the stability to the bones.


ROM or range of motion refers to a joint and is what helps to keep the body mobile, allowing joints to work through their full range of motion without hinderance. ROM varies from individual to individual and in some people is very poor. Even today mobility exercise is commonly neglected or not performed enough.


Functional movement refers to everyday activities. Walking, squatting, standing, lifting and pushing for example. Movements that an individual will naturally do in everyday actions or activities of daily living.


Weight loss has a profound effect on the improvement of not only everyday health but health conditions. If a person is overweight, then reducing that weight (fat loss) reduces the burden on joints. If an individual has Rheumatoid arthritis and is overweight then it makes sense to take steps to lower that weight. By the same token, exercise can help maintain a healthy weight appropriate to you.

So what can you do regarding exercise? A lot depends on personal circumstances.. for example are there any other health conditions to be considered? It is common for an individual to have more than one health concern. An example coud be arthritis and obesity.. with hypertension. Lots of factors are then brought into the equation to develop an appropriate activity.

As well as this an important point to note is a persons actual starting ability. Are they new to exercise? Have they exercised before? Are they exercising now.. but on a completely inappropriate program?

Exercise is variable and very adaptable to start making real progress. Another point to note is that exercise adherence is key to long term health benefit. Finding exercise you like is more likely to encourage you to stick to a structure as oppose to one you dont. That being said some exercises are beneficial by way of "grounding" exercises that should be done. These could run alongside other activities.....


Low impact exercise is to be encouraged generally speaking.

Aerobic activity is to be encouraged (in the absence of rare heart conditions).

MSE or muscular strength endurance is valid as this strengthens the muscles that in turn support the joints.

Flexibility training benefits the body as a whole and encourages better movement capabilities.


Again, a lot depends on your peronal circumstances, such as ability, severity of discomfort and pain and even time constraints may be a consideration for an individual. The ultimate key is "create a habit". Aerobic activity could be three to five times per week (that may be walking). Resistance training could be twice a week. Flexibility could be involved with each bout of activity as an example.

I train clients in the city York, with Rheumatoid arthritis and they benefit massively on one session per week with me interspersed with a couple of shorter "homework sessions" I have set at a duration of ten minutes.

The purpose of this article is to shed a little insight on this type of arthritis and how exercise is recommended for not only this but many other health conditions too. As always, if you would like to know more and how Graham Fit Personal Training can help you..... then don't hesitate to get in touch and book your free consultation.

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