Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects a whopping 1.5 million people in the United States alone. If you’re living with this condition, you know all too well that flare-ups often leave you wanting to stay in bed all day. Going to the gym or getting outdoors for a workout may be the last thing on your mind.

But take heart: Exercise is considered an important part of any treatment program for managing RA symptoms. It helps reduce pain and improve flexibility.

Here are four exercises to try that ease RA symptoms.

1. Swimming

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A zero-impact exercise, swimming is great for people with RA. It takes some of the stress off of your joints. If you’re not a strong swimmer, water aerobics — or even walking in the water — can offer major benefits.

2. Tai chi

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Tai chi is a calming, ancient Chinese practice that promotes tranquility, breathing, and internal energy. It’s also a great exercise for people with RA because of its slow, flowing movements. Researchers from Tufts University found that tai chi may be especially helpful for those who have arthritis, specifically in the knees.

3. Biking

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Another low-impact exercise that removes unnecessary stress on the joints, biking or cycling is an effective option for people living with RA. Depending on which joints are affected, a recumbent bike may be more appropriate than a regular road or mountain bike. Recumbent bikes put no stress on the upper body. Biking’s repetitive leg motion is good for arthritic knees as it encourages the flushing of fluids and production of lubricant around the joints.

4. Resistance training

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Don’t overlook resistance training. It keeps muscles around the joints strong and helps prevent bone loss, too. Make sure you work with a trainer to help you create a custom program that works for you. Don’t forget to stretch before and after hitting the gym.

Bottom line

RA doesn’t have to sideline you. Low-impact aerobic exercises as well as resistance training can ease your symptoms.


Nicole Bowling is a Boston-based writer, ACE-certified personal trainer, and health enthusiast who works to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. Her philosophy is to embrace your curves and create your fit — whatever that may be! She was featured in Oxygen magazine's "Future of Fitness" in the June 2016 issue.