Rheumatoid Arthritis and use it or lose it


Young beautiful woman in the gymI made a deal with myself this week. No matter how bad I am feeling, I will do some form of exercise, every day.  On a great day that will mean intervals on the treadmill, cross trainer and/or recumbent.  Really work up a sweat and push hard.

On a good day that will mean Centergy, or a spin class.  Serious upper body work is still not allowed, with my surgery shoulder.

On a bad day that will mean walking for 20 minutes on a treadmill.  Or riding 20 minutes on the recumbent.  A really bad day will be 10 minutes.

I do believe in use it or lose it.

I do believe if I stop going to the gym altogether, because it gets too hard, because it gets too painful, that I will never go back.  That I will never get it back.

So no matter how pathetic my efforts might seem, I have to keep going. I have to keep trying.  Even a slow walk on a treadmill is keeping my joints moving. Keeping my hips mobile, keeping my muscles strong.  And keeping my mind focussed.

Yesterday I did Centergy.  After the first track I knew it was a mistake. I wasn’t in fit shape for the class. I should have gone to the recumbent bike.  The pain ramped up throughout the class.  By the end of the second track I wanted to leave.  But I stayed…and I took it easy.  Centergy is a combination of yoga and pilates moves, set to contemporary music.  It’s all mat work, and largely a static class.  It’s great for strength, flexibility and mobility. And it’s amazing how much of a sweat you can work up holding a yoga pose!

But you can take it easier.  Don’t hold the poses as long, don’t hold them as deeply.  Which is what I did yesterday.  I still had to skip a track and leave the room because the pain had become too much.  And when I did, a few people saw me.  One of my friends saw the tears in my eyes from the pain.  A few of the trainers saw me trying to get up the stairs.  (Who in the world thought that putting the ladies room at the top of the stairs was an OK plan? Even healthy people have leg day for goodness sake!)  One of them used to train me.  But that was two years ago when I was in much better shape, in every sense of the phrase.

Today I went to the gym and didn’t even think about doing a class.  Straight to the cardio room. Slow walk on the treadmill.  After five minutes I had to support my weight with my arms, holding onto the side rails. That’s OK, gives me an upper body work out as well, right?

The same trainer saw me.  He looked right at me. And watched me.

And I could see that he felt sorry for me.  I could feel it.  It was palpable.  It was all over his face and it filled the room.

When he tried to catch my eye to say ‘Hi’ I had to look away.

Then I had to run away. To my car. To cry.

Because everything I saw on his face is everything that I am trying so hard to deny. That I refuse to face.  That I can’t admit. That I can’t accept.  The disease is winning.

The disease is winning.


  1. I’m a new reader here. I’ve recently been diagnosed with seronegative inflammatory arthritis, and who knows what started it. Had a bad time of it for about a month, then went on the prednisone and am in the tapering off phase of that. I’ve been looking around the internet for guidance, and haven’t yet decided what my next step is. I’ve heard that for some lucky people, this rheumatoid crap gets better and goes away. And I can see by your blog that sometimes it doesn’t get better at all. I’m considering trying giving up gluten and/or dairy, but I’m not there yet. We’ll see. For me, swimming helps more than other exercise, but I don’t belong to a gym, and a pool is not always available (there’s a community pool nearby that I can use, but it’s outdoors (I live in California) and the other medication I’m on makes me sensitive to the sun, so I’m not sure about that yet.)

    Anyway, that’s me telling you my story thus far. I wanted to leave a comment and tell you how heartbreaking your story is, and thank you for telling it here. I do hope that this disease doesn’t win. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how hard we fight, how hard we try. Sometimes our bodies don’t know what’s best. I’m sorry that you’re going through this.

    • Thank you for your kind comments. Please remember that my case is not typical. Most people DO respond to treatments, so I hope that my blog doesn’t cause you to feel worried or negative about the future. Tapering prednisone is hard, as all your symptoms start to return. I tried giving up dairy, and gluten (and a whole bunch of other stuff) but it didn’t help me. I always thinks its worth a shot. But if you give them up for a month and don’t feel any improvement at all, then its probably not diet related for you. And you’re making your life harder no reason! I hope you can keep up the swimming, at least sometimes. Have you tried yoga/pilates? I have found it helps a lot in terms of keeping muscles/tendons/ligaments strong, which in turn support gammy joints. I hope your treatments work for you, and you are one of the ones who reach remission quickly! Write back and let me know how you’re going, here or on the fb page. Best of luck to you!


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