My Workout Routine to Fight Rheumatoid Arthritis and Reduce Inflammation
The common advice you get when you're diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis is: change your lifestyle! Eat clean and workout regularly!
...yes, totally, but there's some important nuance here.
When you're first diagnosed with RA, you are also probably dealing with undiagnosed iron deficiencies (something like 70%+ of people with rheumatoid arthritis have anemia because inflammation depletes nutrients) and you can't go full-force into HIIT workouts with these (and other!) deficiencies.
This article goes into what I've found personally works for me, with guidance from my health team.
Always consult your doctor and medical team before starting a new fitness plan!
Strength > Cardio
If you're trying to decide whether or not to go to lift weights or go to a spin class, opt for the weight lifting, especially if you're still early in your RA healing journey.
I've often felt ~worse~ after doing high-intensity cardio, especially if I'm having a flare. I've read and have been told that doing cardio can increase inflammation, whereas building muscle can reduce inflammation in the long run.
People with RA also have difficulty building muscle, so maintaining muscle mass is key.
Some people do splits (i.e. leg day) but I just do total body almost every session to make sure I'm evened out. It's up to you how you want to approach your strength training. You could start with just doing YouTube videos, or you could hire a personal trainer at your local gym.
Prioritize Yoga and Tai Chi
Rheumatoid arthritis is also known as the autoimmune disease that has "stuck energy." That's why things like yoga, tai chi, and acupuncture can help so much: they are said to remove those energy blocks and help you breathe through the pain and discomfort.
Yoga is also great for mobility, and tai chi can help reduce stress.
I'm still getting into tai chi, but I've done yoga for years and it's a lifelong practice that helps me get out of my head and release deep tension held in my body.
If you're new to yoga, I'd recommend just doing some super simple, low-intensity flows. You can even start with restorative yoga, which is a slower, more calming version of yoga that blends meditation and breathwork with poses held for a long time. It's my favorite, and feels so good.
Walking > Running
I used to run half marathons, and they were not kind on my body. I enjoyed the challenge and the training schedule helped me stay consistent with my workouts, but I don't believe running is the answer for fitness anymore.
Instead, I think low-impact cardio like running mixed with bursts of explosive training sessions and plyometrics is superior than running for hours at a time.
I'll still go for a run time to time, but I've found that pairing daily walks (I get 8-12k steps in per day) with other forms of strength and HIIT training has gotten me better and faster results than just running a lot, which I did in the past.
I would say this is especially true if you deal with a lot of joint pain and discomfort. Adding the additional strain on your body of hours of high-impact cardio isn't the answer. Instead, you can build strength and explosive energy through bursts of high-impact, and through low-impact methods as well.
Get in your walk, and do circuit training or other interval training to boost your heart rate.
Supplements for Working Out with RA + How Much Protein Should I Get?
I take a sprouted vegan protein powder in my morning smoothie and eat protein after my workout (usually in the form of trail mix or a homemade protein bar!) and I don't have any other supplements specific to working out other than that. I have coconut water in my smoothie to help maintain hydration and electrolytes.
I would avoid creatine because your body can become dependent on it.
Other than that, it's key that you're getting enough protein for your body. There's so much conflicting info out there about how much protein is too much/not enough, and as a vegan in this world I totally believe that a lot of the protein craze has been fueled by meat and dairy lobbies.
(Just check out this video from Nutrition Facts, a nonprofit that collates nutrition research papers into short-form video, and what they have to say about the history of protein. Check out all their videos on protein here.)
Consistency vs. Listening to Your Body
My weekly workout routine varies. Sometimes, I'll swap out my cardio circuit for a hike. Other times, I'll be dealing with so much fatigue I'll just do some gentle yoga and call it a day.
Consistency is important, and it will give you energy, but allow some space to listen to your body, also. There's no point in pushing so hard you collapse, but you do need to be 80% consistent to reap the anti-inflammatory benefits of regular exercise.
Amy's Weekly Workout Routine
Here's what I do each week:
Sundays: Walk 8-12k steps.
Mondays: Walk 8-12k steps, cardio circuit for 30 minutes OR go climbing at a bouldering gym. Daily yoga.
Tuesdays: Walk 8-12k steps, strength circuit for 45 minutes. Daily yoga.
Wednesdays: Walk 8-12k steps, cardio circuit for 30 minutes OR mobility/stretch session. Daily yoga.
Thursdays: Walk 8-12k steps, strength circuit for 45 minutes. Daily yoga.
Fridays: Walk 8-12k steps, cardio circuit for 30 minutes OR go climbing at a bouldering gym. Daily yoga.
Saturdays: Rest day.
This is a pretty intense schedule, but I've found it works really well for me to keep my body happy and to relieve stress and tension. During my circuit training, I push myself hard but not too hard.
I'll also swap out certain days with hiking or cycling or something as I see fit. It's all about balance and keeping life interesting!
Finding the Right Workout Schedule for You
If you're looking for the most effective workout plan to help put your RA in remission, it's going to be a combination of strength training, mobility, and a bit of HIIT/cardio intervals.
However, if you hate exercise, just pick something you're going to stick with on a regular basis and start there. Go on a bike ride. Walk around the block. Do a little bit of yoga. Find some fun videos on YouTube that are free that you can do.