January 31, 2023

Healthy About Liver

Masters of Health

One Month RA Workout Plan

Seven days and you’re done! In Week 4 of our daily workout goal, you officially accomplish your fitness streak—and learn ways to keep moving forward.

Picture this: Your calendar this month is showing a ton of check-marks, and there are only seven more boxes left to cross off. This is the fourth and final week of this Dream Big plan, and by Sunday, you’ll have stuck to your goal of exercising every. Single. Day. This is an incredible streak, and you should be proud of yourself!

How do you feel, #RAWarriors? These small steps are kind of a big deal.

Consider the effect that achieving a month of daily exercise had on your coach for this goal, certified personal trainer Ali DiGiacomo. “I couldn’t walk when I was 20 years old, and now I teach others how to exercise and provide motivation for thousands of people just like you and me,” says DiGiacomo of her journey with rheumatoid arthritis. So how exactly did doing that first workout-a-day challenge inspire her to continue, and to ultimately transform her life?

“I was instantly addicted to that feeling of health and fitness, and I wanted to continue to do exercise that was fun, and that did not feel like a job,” she says. “I knew dance would motivate me to move, so I started watching free videos online about how to dance (thank God for YouTube!), and followed along as best I could. And every day, even on days I was in pain, the thought of dancing motivated me to get out of bed and get moving.”

Her strength improved with each passing week, and after a few months, she realized she could do squats and lunges without pain or stiffness. It was then that DiGiacomo stepped things up. “Before I knew it, even when flares set me back, I was able to stay consistent to go that much longer or lift that much more,” she recounts. “I progressed to using heavier weights, was able to finish 45-minute group fitness classes, and was keeping up with just about everyone at the gym.”

Inspired? Stick to this Dream Big plan for the next seven days and you might be surprised where the sense of accomplishment—and feeling of fitness—takes you. Let’s go!

Week 4: Steady Does It

This week, you’ll continue doing the workouts you did in Week 3, using the same number of sets and reps, and the same resistance. This repeat is intentional, allowing you to log those daily wins without pushing your body too fast. “The idea is to progress slowly and steadily as you’re creating this new habit,” says DiGiacomo. “If you’re feeling extra energetic one day, add five minutes to your walk or your choice of cardio.”

Since you’ve now got three weeks of regular exercise under your belt, you might be feeling a little sore, but this likely means you’re working your muscles in new ways.

“Exercise soreness feels different than flare soreness,” says DiGiacomo. “My RA pain is in the joints, and it radiates from that area outward. Exercise soreness is in the muscles themselves, and it feels good in the sense that I know I challenged my body and am getting stronger and healthier. It also goes away in a couple days.”

To help alleviate soreness from exercise, add some stretching to your workout that day, choosing moves that target the achy area. For example, if your shoulders are sore, do some gentle arm circles; if your back is sore, do some seated spinal twists.

“You can also get a massage,” says DiGiacomo; she herself books a regular appointment with a therapist. Indeed, a recent study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that Swedish massage—a gentle, relaxing treatment—was effective in reducing pain in those with RA. It also improves blood flow to your joints, helps improve sleep and can even boost your mood, according to research on massage in the journal Chronic Pain & Management.

Week 4 Training Plan

If you didn’t use the resistance bands last week, give them a try this week. If you still don’t have any, do the suggested modification instead.

Day 1: Cardio

Take a 25-minute walk.

Tip: If you’re feeling good, see if you can pick up your pace a little bit, or find a route with some very gentle hills to change things up.

Day 2: Strength Training—Upper Body

Resistance Band Boxing

Wrap the band around your upper back and hold the handles at chest level with your palms facing inward, elbows bent. Hold your left hand in place as you extend your right arm and punch straight out in front of you. Return to the start. Continue, alternating sides, for 20 total reps.

Tip: You may need to shorten the band by choking up on it or looping it around your hands to keep it in place while still providing adequate resistance.

Modification: Shadow box without the bands, or hold a pair of water bottles or light dumbbells to increase the intensity. Bottles still too heavy? Pour out some of the water to adjust the weight!

Resistance Band Biceps Curl

Stand on one end of the band with both feet and hold the other handle in your right hand. Keep your upper arm close to your side as you bend your right elbow and curl the handle toward your shoulder. Pause briefly then slowly lower to the start. Complete all reps on one side before switching. Do 10 reps each arm.

Tip: Make sure there’s adequate tension in the band; it should feel easy at first, and will be harder as you curl your arm up.

Modification: Continue doing the Air Curl/Extension from Weeks 1 and 2, or use a pair of water bottles or light dumbbells instead.

Resistance Band Triceps Extension

Choke up on the band and hold it with both hands at chest height, elbows bent. Keep your left hand in place as you extend your right elbow completely. Pause briefly then return to the start. Continue alternating sides, for 20 total reps.

Tip: Focus on squeezing the muscles in the back of your arm to pull the band down.

Modification: Continue doing the Air Curl/Extension from Weeks 1 and 2, or use a pair of water bottles or light dumbbells instead.

Superman Trunk Raise

Lie face-down with your legs together and your arms along your sides. Keep your head neutral (don’t arch it or look up) as you lift your head and shoulders off the mat. Pause and hold for a count of three, then lower to the start.

Tip: Keep your chest in contact with the mat throughout the move to protect your spine.

Day 3: Stretching

Doorway Chest Stretch

Stand sideways inside a door jamb and lift your right arm to shoulder height, elbow bent 90 degrees. Place your arm on the outside of the jamb, then twist slowly to the left until you feel a stretch in your shoulder and chest. Pause for a count of three, then return to the start. Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.

Seated Butterfly Stretch

Sit with the soles of your shoes together and let your knees fall open to the sides. Place your hands on your feet and keep a straight back as you slowly lean forward from your hips as far as you can. Hold for five seconds, then sit back up. Repeat 10 times.

Tip: For a deeper stretch, place your elbows on your knees and simultaneously press down as you lean forward.

Knee-to-Chest

Lie face-up with your legs extended. Bend your right knee and lift it over your hips, foot flexed. Grasp behind your thigh with both hands and gently pull your knee in toward your chest. Hold for 10 seconds, then lower your leg back to the floor. Continue, alternating sides, for 10 reps each leg.

Day 4: Cardio

Do your cardio of choice for 20 minutes. Any low-impact activity such as walking, dancing, swimming, cycling, yoga, or tai chi is great.

Day 5: Strength Training—Lower Body and Core

Supported Squat

Stand inside a doorframe and grip the front of the jamb at waist height with both hands. Position your feet shoulder-width apart and turn your toes out slightly. Slowly push your hips back then bend your knees and squat as low as you comfortably can. Your heels should stay on the floor throughout the move. Return to the start. Repeat 10 times.

Tip: Use the door jamb to maintain balance and to help you stand back up, if needed.

Seated Resistance Band Leg Press

Sit tall in a sturdy chair and loop the band underneath your right foot. Hold the handles at your waist with your palms facing inward, choking up to create tension, if needed. Keeping your foot flexed, lift your leg so your foot is off the floor. From here, extend your leg until it’s straight, pressing against the band. Return to the start. Complete 10 reps on one side, then switch.

Tip: The tension on the band will increase as you press your leg away, so make sure you hold it tight with both hands.

Modification: Do the move without the band; the weight of your leg might be enough.

Standing Side Leg Raise

Hold the band of a sturdy chair with both hands and stand with your feet together. Keeping your foot flexed, raise your right leg as high as you can without tipping sideways. Return to the start. Complete 10 reps on one side, then switch.

Tip: Bend your standing knee slightly to maintain balance as you lift and lower your other leg.

Dead Bug

Lie face-up with your knees bent. Lift them over your hips with your shins parallel to the floor and your feet flexed. Extend your arms straight up over your shoulders and press your lower back into the floor. Slowly lower one leg and your opposite arm about 45 degrees and pause briefly. Return to the start. Continue, alternating sides, for 20 total reps.

Day 6: Cardio

Take a 25-minute walk. Choose a new route, or find one with small hills to boost the challenge.

Day 7: Stretching

Standing Calf Stretch

Stand with your hands on the back of a sturdy chair. Take a large step back with your right foot and press your heel onto the ground so your foot is flat. Hold 20 seconds and return to the start. Repeat on the other side.

Tip: Breathe deeply and focus on relaxing the muscles and deepening the stretch.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

Sit with your bum on the edge of a sturdy chair with your feet flat and your back straight. Extend your right leg with your foot flexed. Keeping your back straight, lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Hold here for 20 seconds. Return to the start. Repeat on the other side.

Tip: If your hamstrings are very tight, you might not be able to fold forward much; this is fine. Do what you can and focus on improving your range of motion over time.

Wrist Rolls

Hold both hands in front of you with your elbows bent. Make loose fists with your hands then slowly roll them to the outside for 10 reps. Rest 30 seconds and shake them out, then roll your wrists to the inside for 10 reps. Repeat two times through.

*To watch how-to videos of these moves and more, check out arthritis.org.

Be a Goal Getter

At the end of this week, you might be asking yourself, what’s next?

“Use this challenge as a launching point,” suggests DiGiacomo. “You can repeat these same four weeks again as many times as you want, or you can try something new like a group fitness class.”

Check in with yourself. What workouts did you love and which weren’t your cup of tea? “For example, if you liked the dancing sessions, try taking a barre class or maybe some Pilates,” says DiGiacomo. “If you liked the stretching, try yoga or tai chi. The more you enjoy what you’re doing, the more likely you will be to continue.”

DiGiacomo credits that simple pleasure principle for helping to pull herself out of a long-ago exercise rut when she was still trying to figure out her best life with rheumatoid arthritis. Even today, she posts videos of herself dancing on social media, and uses movement and humor as a way to connect with people and bring awareness to RA. The posts also serve as a sort of high-five for doing exercise. “I celebrate that every day, and you should too!” she says.

Benefits of Massage for RA Patients (1): Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. (2022.) “The effect of Swedish massage on pain in rheumatoid arthritis patients: A randomized controlled trial.” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34953451/

Benefits of Massage for RA Patients (2): Chronic Pain & Management. (2019.) “Hip Pain is Reduced Following Moderate Pressure Massage Therapy.” https://gavinpublishers.com/articles/research-article/Chronic-Pain-Management/hip-pain-is-reduced-following-moderate-pressure-massage-therapy

Lara McGlashan

Meet Our Writer

Lara McGlashan

Lara McGlashan has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and writer in the health and fitness space. She is the former brand director and editor-in-chief for Oxygen magazine, and currently serves as the