Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Managing Autoimmune Arthritis Activity- Genetics, Medication, Diet, & Exercise

Recently I submitted my DNA for a genetic testing study; the results were fascinating. Apparently I have higher than average genetic markers to get Rheumatoid Arthritis.  How about that?  I have Rheumatoid Arthritis so I guess that was pretty telling?

This is the very reason I get frustrated when someone tries to tell me that RA is caused by diet and/or lack of exercise.  Degenerative Arthritis, yes, can be caused by diet and exercise issues.  Some of the 80+ Autoimmune Diseases can also be a result of diet. My disease, however, is not. 

Now, in saying this, can diet and exercise (or lack thereof) contribute to the ACTIVITY of my disease?  Yes, of course.  While diet can help with inflammation, which CONTRIBUTES to the destruction of the body, it cannot manipulate cell interaction, which is the INSTIGATOR of the disease.  It starts with cell malfunction, it results in inflammation.  So only treating the inflammation (through diet and exercise) isn't targeting the cause of the disease.  While it can and does HELP my symptoms, it doesn't manipulate the way my cells interact with one another.  Therefore, I use medications to address the cause.  I use diet and exercise, as well as medications, to address the effect.

I feel with my medications and diet adjustments I do have most of the inflammation and progression under control.  However, I find it's the fitness part of this equation that is most difficult to control due to bouts of fatigue, fevers, and muscle weakness caused by having an autoimmune disease.  It certainly doesn't make it any easier when I hear people say that exercise would have prevented my RA...because I was an athlete when diagnosed.  That should be enough to throw that theory out the window, wouldn't you think?

Maybe by charting my fitness activity I may be able to begin showing others that lack of exercise is not what caused my RA?  Also, if I begin to chart my fitness progression perhaps not only could I help to balance my treatment plan, but also I'll have a record to show doctors and family/friends what exactly I am capable to do and why?  Also, I need to find exercises that are conducive to my level of fitness, minus weights that are now too much for my joints to tolerate...but that are also challenging enough to equate an athlete level work out. I refuse to do water aerobics because I was kickboxing only a few years ago.  The stretch from extreme activity sports to water exercise is a stretch way too wide for me at this juncture in my life. 

So in my search for a happy medium, I came across a new app for iPhone called Fitness Buddy.  It allows me to track my fitness day to day, week to week, and month to month.  Why is this important for patients with Autoimmune Arthritis?  We have completely unpredictable schedules.  One morning we could wake in complete exhaustion, fever, and severe pain; 3 hours later the fog could lift and we feel like we can do a work out.  Other days the flare simply won’t subside and we may be limited in our activity for the day.  So, for me, this tracking isn’t only good to see what my activity level was during the day, or last week, or last month, there is also a space for me to type in notes.  I use those notes to track my disease activity in regards to how active I was able to be on any given day.  I can use this information to help myself understand my abilities as well as to help educate others about what I am able to do, what I cannot do, and why.
Another great feature of this app is that there are literally 1,000’s of exercises in the database.  They range from stretching on a mat to using a resistance band to weight machine options.  So regardless of my level of damage from Autoimmune Arthritis, my level of disease effect on any given day, or my athletic ability, I can surely find something to do for exercise with such an array of options.  Not only does the Fitness Buddy list this array of exercises, it provides both written and visual illustrations of every selection in their resource library.  They even have a video option!  The downfall? It does take a while to go through those exercises that I feel would be applicable for me, and it’s admittedly a little difficult to understand exactly how and where to save my customized programs I create from the resources, but I’m sure once I get past my technically challenged hang ups this could be exactly the type of resource I’ve been looking for to help keep me on track physically.  Now, it may not ever debunk the myth that lack of exercise is a contributor to getting RA, but it could help me to complete my treatment program of proper medicine, diet, and fitness, as well as educate others on my physical capabilities and limitations?

I’ll be looking more into this app and letting you know of my successes, challenges, and/or failures in using it.  But in the meantime, please check it out and let me know what you think (link below). I’m excited to finally have something to monitor my fitness so that I can pair it with my anti-inflammatory diet and medication, all working together to keep my genetic issues under control!

Fitness Buddy (App) -


  1. I enjoyed your part towards the beginning explaining treating the cause. Some folk just don't get that. But I really don't understand your adverseness to water exercise. Have you ever watched the Olympics? Water sports are exercise. Maybe you have never exercised in the water. Maybe you don't like to swim. You should do some research on the benefits of water exercise . You can actually get quite a wkout-comprabable to kickboxing. And the Amercian Arthritis Association highly recommends water exercise for those with arthritis. It is really great for the joints while allowing your muscles to get a good workout. Before I got sick I hiked, biked, skied, etc. I got too sick to be able to do those things. Now I am well enough to do water exercise. That is about all I can do. And I am extremely thankful for it. I love it. It feels wonderful. At times I would give anything to go for a run or ride my bike. So, to be able to swim is an amazing gift. There are all levels of water exercise. My local Y has an arthritis class-which I was told would be too easy for me. They also have a chronic pain class which is supposedly a harder level. And then of course there are regular water aerobics, swimming, etc. Please don't knock water exercise. It's extremely beneficial and for some of us it's almost a life saver.

  2. Hello!
    My apologies, I'm not knocking water aerobics, it's great for some people, and yes, I have worked with the Arthritis Foundation and visited DC several times requesting funding for more programs such as water aerobics to be available to patients. However, for me, it's just not something I can do because it isn't fun for me. I have tried it and I'm not comfortable- it's too far a stretch from competitive sports that I grew up doing. I can't get the same satisfaction from it, hence why I'm looking for substitutions that are more my style. I wish there were more options offered than water aerobics and thai chi because I just don't like either one? lol But I'm glad you find the classes great for you, that's key...finding what you enjoy!


  3. Hi,

    I was wondering if you accepted any guest posting regarding hip pain and arthritis on your site? I couldn’t manage to find your email on the site. If you could get a hold of me at, I would greatly appreciate it!


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