at the Water's Edge

Living life and learning all I can along the way!

To Move Or Not To Move, That Is The Question


**This post is a part of the first annual RA Blog Week, spurred on by RADiabetes. For more information and the full list of prompts, click here.

RA Blog Week Day 5 Prompt: "Exercise and RA – write about your favorite exercise. What do you like about it, and what keeps you going? Maybe you like to run marathons or do finger exercises. Perhaps you love to walk, or maybe stretching is your cup of tea. Maybe you are tired of being told to exercise? Give your readers the rundown on what does or does not move you."

I call this my "conquering RD" photo - a
successfully pain-free backpacking trip on
Isle Royale National Park
I've seen the issue of exercising with Rheumatoid Disease hotly debated. There's a huge push from most health organizations to exercise because it is good for your joints and will ultimately help you move better. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. I know a lot of people with RD who say exercise helps them tremendously. I also know a lot of people who say if they try to do any real exercise, they will end up in bed for a week reaping the repercussions. According to a survey of over 1,400 RA patients, conducted by the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation, 67% of respondents said that physical activity actually caused their RA pain to increase. Only 18% said physical activity caused their RA pain to decrease. So, what's the deal with exercise?

Here's the way I look at it: exercise is good for the body in so many ways, and an active lifestyle is of course healthy -- if your body is in proper condition to do it. But you have to listen to your body. For me, I can usually tell the difference between various types of pain caused by rheumatoid disease. There's the stiff, achiness that sometimes infects my joints and makes it difficult to move. In this state, I find that moving and stretching does, in fact, loosen up my joints and help me feel better. This is like the traditional "morning stiffness" that many people with rheumatoid disease experience (though not always in the morning!). Moving around and just getting on with everyday tasks often helps loosen me up and get me to feeling better. Unless...

...unless I'm seriously in a flare. A real "flaring" joint to me is different than the dull achy or stiff joints. It's the joint on fire, hot, inflamed, feels-like-it's-broken sort of pain. Have you ever tried walking with a broken ankle? Ever tried lifting things with a broken wrist? I'm pretty sure your doctor would tell you that a broken or sprained joint needs to rest. You can damage it further if you put too much strain on it. To me, it seems to work the same way with RD. If I have a flaring joint, stressing it out by applying to much pressure or overusing it (sometimes that's using it at all!) will only cause more pain and inflammation. These are the joints that benefit from rest. Never mind the fact that sometimes there are joints that you simply physically cannot use, even if you want to.
I even got Tom to join me in some yoga before our long
flight to the UK last year!

There's also a third scenario: exercising yourself into a flare. I've done this a few times. I was feeling pretty well, then I had a period of heightened physical activity, and it left me in a state of long-lasting flare, with angry joints and inflammation that I didn't have before said physical event. An example would be backpacking. My first couple of trips, I felt great going in, and miserable coming out. It was the strenuous activity that pushed me into a flare. The same thing  happened on my last ski trip (ouchy knees in the night!!). I've since learned to take preemptive measures to protect against this, and I now request a burst of prednisone from my rheumatologist if I know I'm going to be traveling or doing something more physical than normal.

All in all, I say, move what you can, and rest what you need to. You know your body best and how it responds. Listen to what your joints are telling you. I love doing some basic yoga moves to help stretch out my body and loosen me up -- which I something I can normally do, even if some of my joints are flaring. I can even be caught doing "office yoga" in the middle of the work day sometimes. It feels good and leaves me feeling better.

Of course, my favorite way to "exercise" when I'm feeling well is gardening. It's a lot of hard work, and sometimes does leave my hands swollen -- but this is my one activity that is "worth it" even if it causes me small amounts of pain and swelling. Fortunately, I've been mostly well lately and have been able to enjoy my vegetables and flowers this year. I think for most of us, there is a physical activity that leaves us feeling better not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. For me, that is being out in nature and enjoying the beauty of creation -- whether it be in my yard and garden or on a hiking trail. When your body says, "go," -- then go, and enjoy whatever it is that you enjoy best.

Nothing can stand between a girl and her garden!

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Hi there! My name is Dana and I live in West Michigan with my husband, Tom and our dog Copernicus. I created this space as a place to share the things I learn along this journey I call life. I work in marketing and I'm a sort of Jane of All Trades, interested in all things nature, gardening, cooking, exploring and learning new things. This blog is a conglomeration of my interests, hobbies, life and life lessons. Thanks for stopping by!