Exercise And Rheumatoid Arthritis

SirsasanaAfter a more than two-month absence, Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy returned to the gym last week. While I had not worked out in the “traditional” sense, I do consider many of the days that I experienced during this past flare as some of the most difficult workouts of all.

When I say this, I am not being just metaphorical – I was surprised at how easily I was able to get back into the gym groove. I obviously had gotten exercise during the past two months, as I struggled to remain mobile. It was nice to realize this.

Right around the same time that I started exercising again, a couple of  fellow bloggers were also writing about their own returns to the gym. [Dual Sport Life’s Dos and Don’ts of a Successful Fitness Plan and RheumaBlog’s Apprehensive and Pep Talk.] This might sound silly, but I sort of felt like I was in a silent alliance with them…probably because I understand how difficult it is for those of us living with rheumatoid arthritis to maintain a regular exercise plan.

During the past few years I’ve had an on-again off-again relationship with my exercise plan, which consists primarily of power yoga, pilates, and some basic weight training. Early on in my life with rheumatoid arthritis is was more on-again, but most recently it’s been more off-again. I have come to accept that this will always be a part of my routine. There will be times when I can work out, and there will be times when I cannot work out.

While my gym is a little more costly than others in town, I have always thought it was worth the price, as it has the best instructors that I have found to date and is the only full-service fitness center in town. (I love the dry sauna during winter time!) But as I continued to lose more and more days out of each month, I did start to worry about continuing to pay for a membership that I could not fully use.

So the first thing I did before I returned to the gym last week was schedule a meeting with the owner. As some of you may remember, I did email her back in May after having missed three weeks that month, and she graciously gave me an extension for my lost time. While we resolved this as a one-time occurrence, it only recently became obvious to me that periods of absence would more than likely continue to happen in the future. I had an entire speech prepared in my mind, in which I was going to ask that my lost days not be counted against my monthly membership.

To my surprise, I never even got to speak these words that I had so carefully prepared. Immediately, she welcomed me back and told me that in the future I would not be charged for any missed days. She informed the reception desk, and let them know that I was going to be keeping track of my missed days and that my monthly membership was to be extended accordingly.

I also asked if there were any services that were more restorative in nature. (I have been going there almost two years and had never asked!) I was surprised to find out that one of the personal trainers is actually a practicing physical therapist. She also told me that some pilates reformer machines will be arriving in the coming months…and while there will be a lot of demand for available slots, that I could be given one of the spots as this would allow me to continue to exercise while reducing the strain on my joints.

Last week I went to the gym twice: one yoga class and one pilates class. This week I went four times: two yoga classes and two pilates classes. New week I hope to build up to six visits. While I am obviously feeling much better than I have been in the past month, my biggest rule has been not to push myself too hard. I am modifying my routine as needed – just this past week I did an entire vinyasa routine without using my wrists, and the following day did an entire pilates routing without using my hands. I can do one-legged postures on my right foot, but cannot do them with my left foot.

In yoga class, we typically close our routine with an freestanding headstand. I told myself that I was not even going to try this posture…how could I possibly do so after not having done a headstand for months? I then changed my mind. I told myself that I was going to move into the entry position, and then I was going to listen to my body. My body, and not my mind, was going to tell me if I was ready to move into headstand. Before I even knew it, I was in the full pose.

My yoga companions started clapping, which surprised me. After all, they have seen me enter into this pose many times before. It then hit me… They weren’t clapping because I was doing a headstand. They were clapping because they know that I live with rheumatoid arthritis, and they know what it means when I am not in class – especially for extended periods of time. They were clapping because I was back. Deep down inside, this made me feel good.

So instead of being completely on or completely off, I am learning to explore and adapt to that gray zone in between these two extremes. Hopefully, in this manner, I can continue to balance my exercise needs with the reality of living with rheumatoid arthritis. And in the process, I can continue to get to know my body even better.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

15 Comments
15 comments
  1. Adam says:

    Thanks for this RA Guy.

    I have had RA for nearly four years and find when I am having a flare up I can’t do any exercise, my last flare up has only recently ended after nearly a year off work :-( I can now do anything I want, I have been working, walking, ridding bikes, pretty much everything I did before I become unwell. Is this normal for RA? do you feel well for long periods of time then have long periods unable to function properly?

    Do you mind If I ask, How long have you been Diagnosed with RA RA Guy>?

  2. Sarah says:

    my dad as not long got over a flare up…its defo not nice to see..hope your feeling loads better now adam

  3. Leslie says:

    This brought tears to my eyes….what a great accomplishment after coming out of a flare. I am in a flare now …have been for two weeks. I see my doc Monday….at this point I’m hoping for a new med. I guess the mtx just isn’t doing the trick anymore :/ I want to exercise SO bad…but when its hard to even get out of bed…there is no way to exercise! so i just do stretches and hope for a better day!

  4. Elaine says:

    You are an inspiration to us all Adam. I am recovering after a major flare up. Have damaged joints but under ctrl.
    If I dont exercise / walk I am worse for wear.

  5. RA Guy says:

    I have been diagnosed with RA for a little under five years, although I have lived with it for much longer. I initially had a few bad weeks out of each year…then it progressed to a few bad weeks each few months…and during this past year it’s been almost a few bad weeks each month. So I’ve been trying to focus on making the most out of every day, whether it’s good or bad.

    And I know the feeling where just getting out of bed and getting dressed is a challenge…so on those days if I do some minor stretches in my ankles and wrists, I consider that my workout of the day…anything to keep moving!

  6. Teresa says:

    Thanks Adam. You are a wonderful inspiration and your site is awesome. I’ve been diagnosed for 4 years and this year has been very difficult with flares. Just found your site last week and I’m so glad to see people blogging and helping each other. I didn’t find this to be the case 4 years ago or either I looked in the wrong places. Anyway, I’m thankful for you and everyone supporting one another.

  7. RA Guy says:

    Thanks, Teresa – glad that you found us. I too searched online a few years back and couldn’t find much beyond some online support boards. And then I found Sara’s blog at The Single Gal’s Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis, and loved it!

    FYI, Adam is a reader who left a comment on this post…RA Guy continues to remain unnamed :-)

  8. sara says:

    yay!!! This is so great. I just came back from a yoga class where I practiced a few arm balances for the first time since RA, and it was for that exact reason- I decided to listen to my body, not my nay-sayer mind, and let that guide whether I was ready to do it or not…and I was!

  9. Anna says:

    Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for a while, but I’m new to the comments box :)

    It’s great that the people at your gym are so understanding and supportive about you missing membership time because of flares. Some of them are not – one of my work colleagues broke her foot and was in a cast for two months, and her gym initially refused to make up for the two months worth of membership she’d missed – they only did so after she filed a complaint.

  10. Terry says:

    It feels good to get back in the gym doesn’t it? I feel like the Orencia is starting to work for me and I have been slowly getting back into my routine. It is hard to restart a program and see how much you have lost. When I started hurting so badly this spring, I was working with 450 lbs on my leg press, now I am starting over again with 250 lbs. I feel like everyone is looking at me saying what a wimp! Oh well, I’m not there to impress anyone anyway.

    Glad you’re feeling good enough to get back to exercising.

  11. Michelle says:

    Adam, I have been in a flare since a surgery in December ’08 each day is different. I’m supposed to go back to work next week…I hope they keep me ;)

  12. Michael says:

    I’m in the same spot RA guy, I get momentum and then pow! Flare up. Thank you for the inspiration as always and letting us know we’re not alone.

  13. Judy says:

    I noticed that no one has mentioned aquatic therapy. I have been doing aquatic therapy for 16 years. I have a terrible time exercising normally, but can do almost anything in a nice 92 degree pool. I use a therapeutic pool at a rehab center. It keeps me moving & is heaven-sent on a painful day. Anyone else tried this?

  14. RA Guy says:

    Judy, my rheumatologist has been strongly recommending that I do some aquatic exercise – he even offered to meet me at the pool. We’re only now moving into warm weather where I live, so maybe I’ll give it a try…thanks for sharing!

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