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Finding the Right Exercise Plan with Rheumatic Disease

April 25, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


You’ve probably heard that exercise is an important part of managing your health while living with rheumatic disease. However, it can be confusing to figure out the best exercise plan for your unique situation! I find it helpful to look at all the different variables when I’m considering starting a new exercise plan. These factors include:

Type of Exercise

Aerobic exercise makes your heartbeat faster and is great for cardiovascular health. This is important as many rheumatic diseases come along with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Some examples of aerobic exercise are walking, riding a bike, jogging, swimming, dancing, and even doing heavy chores.

Stretching can also be helpful for your overall pain levels and posture. Many with rheumatic diseases enjoy stretching routines such as yoga or tai chi. Additionally, resistance exercise, also known as strength training, is important to build musculature and help support joints.


Some people tolerate low intensity exercise best. High intensity exercise, such as sprinting, has additional cardiovascular benefits. Some prefer interval training, which involves alternating between low and high intensity. An example would be alternating between walking for 45 seconds and sprinting for 15 seconds.


How many minutes total will you exercise? How many days per week? Do you prefer to exercise at once or spread throughout the day? For example, some people find that doing small bursts of exercise throughout the day is less fatiguing than doing one prolonged exercise session.


Do you prefer land-based or water-based exercise? There are many benefits to aquatic exercise for people with rheumatic diseases, as the water partially removes the effect of gravity on the joints and can make movement more comfortable.

Additional factors to consider include: do you prefer to exercise on your own, with a friend, or in a larger group? If you enjoy group classes, do you prefer to be in person or virtual? What about exercising indoors versus outside? In my personal experience, the best exercise routine is one that you find enjoyable and that you’ll be most likely to stick with. For me, that’s included riding an exercise bike at home and doing group dancing classes.


Due to joint pain or other symptoms, you might need to modify your approach. For example, when doing yoga, I avoid positions that put weight on my wrists, and instead go onto my forearms which is more comfortable for my rheumatoid arthritis.

Enjoyment and Satisfaction

Ideally, you’ll find an exercise plan that is sustainable and enjoyable to help promote your overall well-being. I find that reviewing the benefits of exercise helps me feel more motivated and satisfied with my routine.


You don’t have to figure out the best exercise plan on your own. You can get expert guidance from a physical therapist or occupational therapist. This will likely involve trying a few different routines and keeping a symptom journal to track how the type, intensity and duration of exercise affects your pain and fatigue.

It can feel strange to exercise when you live with pain, because pain sometimes is a signal that we need to slow down or give our bodies some rest. However, when it comes to chronic pain and rheumatic diseases, a wealth of evidence for rheumatic diseases shows that exercise can help decrease pain and fatigue.

Cheryl Crow, OTR/L

About the Author

Cheryl Crow, OTR/L

Cheryl Crow, OTR/L is an occupational therapist who lives with rheumatoid arthritis. She specializes in engaging patient education videos and other media on her Arthritis Life platform. Cheryl also serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland, Washington. Cheryl is a member of the American College of Rheumatology’s Communications and Marketing Committee and can be found on Twitter at @realcc.

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