What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a common, painful condition characterised by swollen and painful joints. It affects the whole body (although usually the feet, hands and wrists) and can cause muscle wasting and lead to increased obesity.

Why is physical activity important for rheumatoid arthritis?

Many people who suffer with rheumatoid arthritis worry that exercise will make their condition worse, but lots of research has proved that this isn't the case. Exercise actually has a very positive effect on reducing the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and does not result in increased damage to joints. As long as your arthritis is under control it is great to exercise, and if you want to keep mobile, it's really important that you do keep physically active.

How much physical activity should you be doing?

If you're looking to become more active and help manage your symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, you should aim to take part in the recommended amount of physical activity for your age group, as outlined in the UK Chief Medical Officer's Physical Activity Guidelines.

For adults aged 19 and over, the recommended amount is at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per week. Where possible, this should be a combination of cardiovascular, strength, flexibility and balance exercises. These could include:

  • Cardiovascular activities - brisk walking, cycling, swimming, dancing
  • Strength activities - resistance training, Yoga, Nordic Walking, carrying heavy shopping, heavy gardening
  • Balance/mobility - Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, body balance classes

Strength exercises are particularly beneficial to people living with rheumatoid arthritis as they help build up muscle and can help overcome any muscle wasting that you may be experiencing. Examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:

  • Yoga
  • Cycling
  • Lifting weights
  • Working with resistance bands
  • Heavy gardening
  • Climbing stairs
  • Hill walking

Helpful tips for keeping active with rheumatoid arthritis

  • Start gently and build up gradually. If you are new to activity build up slowly over 3-6 months
  • There may be activities you need to avoid or be careful with. High impact exercises or contact sports are not recommended for people with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Try to be active everyday - do a little even when you're tired
  • Reduce the amount of time you spend sitting or lying down
  • Being active in a group or class can give you social support and help keep you motivated

For more information about rheumatoid arthritis and how to manage your symptoms through physical activity, visit the Versus Arthritis website.