4. Living a Sedentary Lifestyle
“As with many forms of arthritis, ‘motion is lotion,’ meaning that some form of physical activity and exercise is beneficial,” says Makol. People with arthritis who exercise regularly have better daily functioning, more energy, and less pain, according to the ACR.
A sedentary lifestyle can harm your health in many ways, from increasing your risk for heart disease to further damaging your joints. “A lack of muscle strength can mean a lack of joint protection,” Deane says. “Exercise and physical activity also seem to have some anti-inflammatory effects that may have benefits for people with RA.”
You don’t need to run a marathon to reap the benefits of exercise. “Low-impact aerobic exercises incorporating some strength training, joint protection principles, and stretching for flexibility are most optimal for people with RA,” says Makol. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about creating a personalized exercise plan that works for you.
5. Doing High-Impact Exercise
Exercise is important for building muscle strength and protecting your joints, but high-impact activities, such as running, may cause joint pain during an RA flare or in cases of advanced disease. When joints are inflamed, don’t force yourself to do more than feels comfortable, the Arthritis Foundation recommends. Instead, try gentle range-of-motion exercises such as stretching to keep your joints flexible. Once the flare is over, start exercising again slowly with low-impact aerobic activities, such as walking, and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts.
6. Stressing Out
“Stress comes as part and parcel of having a chronic disease, undergoing long-term treatment, monitoring, and medical bills,” says Makol. Stress in daily life may also increase joint pain by altering your immune function and exacerbating your RA. Researchers are still trying to understand the connection between RA and stress, but stress can clearly affect how people with RA feel. “Stress can make perceived symptoms worse,” Deane says.
Need to reduce your stress? “Talking with a therapist or using other means of stress reduction like meditation, deep-breathing techniques, or guided imagery can be helpful for better control of RA in the long term,” Makol suggests.
7. Being Overweight
Excess weight puts additional stress on your joints, and that can make RA symptoms worse and increase your risk for other health problems, such as heart disease. According to a study published in October 2019 in the journal Advances in Rheumatology, obesity is common in people with RA and associated with RA disease activity.
Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight may help improve your quality of life and the success of your treatment strategies. If you need to lose weight or aren’t sure if your body weight is healthy, ask your doctor for input.