Lifestyle Changes for Rheumatoid Arthritis

NYU Langone rheumatologists—doctors who specialize in conditions that cause painful swelling in joints and muscles—recommend making lifestyle changes to reduce pain and prevent joint damage.

Exercise

The pain and stiffness of rheumatoid arthritis may make you less inclined to exercise, but being sedentary can actually make symptoms worse. When a joint does not function normally, the muscles surrounding it can become weak. The tendons and other soft tissue can become inflamed. These problems can ultimately lead to further joint instability.

Regular exercise can help prevent or reverse this cycle. Our doctors recommend range-of-motion exercises, which help maintain or improve flexibility in joints and the surrounding muscles. Strength training, which builds muscle and tendon strength to stabilize and support joints, can also help.

Rheumatologists may also suggest exercises that increase endurance, such as walking, swimming, or cycling. In addition, yoga and Pilates have been shown to be beneficial in increasing overall strength without overextending the joints.

Rest

If you’re experiencing a flare-up in symptoms, it’s important to rest and give your joints a chance to recover. When your symptoms have subsided, you can resume exercising. Your doctor can help you determine when to begin exercising again if you’re unsure.

Limit Alcohol Intake

Some medications taken for rheumatoid arthritis may increase the risk of liver damage in people who consume alcohol regularly. If you’re taking medications, talk to your doctor about how much and how frequently you drink wine, beer, or other alcoholic beverages.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis, and stopping smoking may improve your symptoms. NYU Langone’s Tobacco Cessation Programs can give you the tools and support you need to quit.

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