My friend is a fitness addict – where some women are hooked on chocolate, wine, or bad choices in men, she acquires her high at the gym. Aerobics, yoga, swimming, kinetics, kickboxing – she’s done it all, and does it all at the crack of dawn. Before the days of old lady RA, I would wake in the morning and do a high energy workout that combined karate and dance moves to rev up my day; now, most of my days begin like an engine unable to turn over. My morning “workout” consists of me pulling my swollen body from the bed, maybe doing some light stretching to get the blood flowing, some light aerobics (walking or stepping) and gentle yoga – if the weather is agreeable, swimming is a great option. These are the good mornings – on the bad ones just getting out of bed is an ordeal. 

It’s important to keep exercising with arthritis, to build bone strength and keep muscles strong; exercise also helps keep your mental acuity sharp and boosts the mood. My own rheumy expressed some concern, (and he does this with a characteristic wrinkling of his forehead which I now acknowledge as a look of disapproval), about the waning muscles in my hands and legs, the latter possibly leading to a potential problem with my knees. He suggested I do some strength training. I thought it was time to challenge myself, and so, I accepted an invitation to accompany my friend to the local gym in a “kinesis” class, a lively program that uses motion, resistance and weights to strengthen the core and lower body. I was emboldened and ready for anything – after all, I had been a dancer for many years, my core was already strong; I should be able to get through one kinesis class without a problem….or so I thought. 

The fitness facility was huge, with three floors of studios, a swimming pool and several gym areas. We picked up our registration tags at the reception desk and made our way to the third floor. To our left was a huge space laden with an assortment of equipment – stationary bikes, treadmills, Stairmasters, rowing machines – to our right was a fitness area with mats, weights and giant exercise balls. Classes were in motion everywhere. The air was permeated with the sweat of willpower. 

We located our group towards the back of the room. Mats were sporadically laid out on the floor; peculiar metallic equipment was attached to the wall. It looked menacing, like something out of a Terminator movie. I half expected them to come to life and snatch me up in their weights and rigging. Iron slabs dangled from pulleys affixed to metal supports. The instructor raced through the demonstration (it was only a thirty minute class after all, and we were to spend most of it being treated like recruits under a drill sergeant). The moves were more challenging than I anticipated; I pushed through as best I could feeling a bit like Popeye without his can of spinach, as I watched buff people with six packs burn through the exercises at top speed. Each time I began my set, the weights were adjusted to the lowest mass until my wiry arms could actually move them. After only ten minutes, I knew I was in way over my head. I could feel my energy declining; the old lady stirred in my knees and started giving me a hard time. I somehow managed to finish the class, feeling like a wilted lettuce leaf. My bouncy friend was invigorated, while I recognized a throbbing that told me I was going to regret this ambitious move the next morning.

I spent a couple of days recovering, returning to my usual routine of swimming and yoga. I was glad I attempted the class, but I think I’ll take some time to slowly build my strength before trying to be Arnold Schwarzenegger again– unless I can miraculously locate that legendary can of spinach.




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  1. Grace on August 21, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    You articulated so well the “feeling” of arthritis flares and guilt! It is great that you recognize your limitations and that you remain strong with the goal of fitness- even when it hurts. And it can hurt for days at a time. I’ve heard the same words re: muscles and ligament strengthening and I earnestly try to do as suggested. Some times, though…!
    Arthritis is such a sneaky and tricky beast; I wish we could be done with it via a cure.

    • J.G. Chayko on August 21, 2014 at 8:50 pm

      Yes, I agree….I wish we could be done with arthritis… maybe one day. As it is, I do try to maintain an active lifestyle, and move a little bit every day. But I do listen to my body and try not to push myself beyond my limits. Hope you are staying well. Cheers.

  2. Irma on August 24, 2014 at 10:32 am

    The high you get from exercise is an incredible high, endorphins galore. And it’s very easy to get addicted. I spent a year and a half working out at top speed and ended up with an ingrown toenail. Sounds minor, but the anesthesia injection to my foot is something I haven’t recovered from! Don’t want that again, so I have toned it down some, maybe too much. Two years later, I’m still trying to get back to where I was then. I highly recommend doing a stationary bike. It’s great for meditation even. You sit there and daydream. I can’t swim and I definitely can’t run, but dance is also quite exhilarating, even if you are only doing it in your living room by yourself. Tai Chi is smooth and gently, but can be deceiving. It’s also a workout, though you progress at your own speed. And the benefits are many. It’s true we cannot let RA get the upper hand. Though when you are in the grips of a flare, it’s hard to see beyond. Hope you are doing well.

    • J.G. Chayko on August 24, 2014 at 11:24 am

      I love dancing for exercise. I was doing a lot of Salsa for a while, but noticed some partners were a bit rough on the hands 🙂 . I have always wanted to try Tai Chi. I think I’ll look for a place for that, I hear it’s a fabulous way to exercise and focus the mind. My cousin found this program that combines pilates and yoga; she’s a personal fitness trainer and she told me it was not hard on the joints, so I might try that as well. Even in the midst of a flare, I do a little bit of stretching or walking, just to keep moving and not let arthritis not rule me. Hope you too are doing well and enjoying life.

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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.