The following is the first in this series and is written by:Leslie Vandever http://rheumablog.wordpress.com/ —known as “Wren” to the readers of RheumaBlog, her personal blog about living well with rheumatoid arthritis—is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
The Hope-Focused Workout
By Leslie Vandever
Sometimes, the very idea of exercising hurts. Sometimes, it’s exhausting to think about. And
sometimes, it’s both.
What then? You know that exercise is good for your whole self, mind and body, from head-top
to toe-tips. You’ve worked hard over the months (maybe years) to make exercise a daily habit.
But today isn’t a matter of willpower, it’s a matter of pain, fatigue, low spirits, and maybe even
hopelessness. Is there some way you can exercise without getting on the treadmill, working
through the weight circuit at the gym, or going for a five-mile jog? What can you do that’ll help
you feel a little more hopeful?
Fortunately, there are four kinds of exercise that won’t jar your joints, jiggle your insides, or jab
at your tender spirit:
• giving back
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “isometric” is from the Greek “isos,”
meaning “equal” and “metria,” meaning “measuring.” When you do isometric exercises, your
muscles are “caused to act against each other or against a fixed object.”
When you try to open a jar of pickles for the first time, it can take all the strength you have as
you try to get the sealed cap to open. That’s a kind of isometric exercise. You aren’t stretching
the muscles of your arm. Instead, you’re straining against an immovable object. You can do
isometrics anywhere: at your desk, sitting on the couch at home, even in bed. Here are a couple
of easy ones:
• Press both palms together and push them against one another as hard as you can. Hold the
press for 10 seconds. Repeat two more times.
• Sitting with your back against the back of your chair, lift your leg to a 90-degree angle. Tip
your toes back toward your shin. Hold for 10 seconds and relax. Do the same with the other
• Standing with your back straight, go up on your tip-toes. Hold for 10 seconds, then rest for
five seconds. Repeat two more times.
There are lots of websites on the Internet that have other excellent isometric exercises you can
Doing exercises that stretch your muscles gets your blood moving, warms and strengthens the
muscle being stretched, and increases range of motion in your joints. Try a couple of these:
• Raise both arms above your head, as high as you can, and clasp your hands together. For the
next 15-20 seconds, try to reach even higher, feeling your muscles stretch. Repeat twice.
• Lying on your back, lift one leg up to a 90 degree angle and bend your foot at the ankle back
toward your face. Hold for 15-20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and do the same with the other
leg. Repeat with both legs twice.
One of the absolute best low-impact exercises around is walking. Go out and take a 30-minute
walk at least four days a week, more if you can. Start with a slow pace. Keep your shoulders
back and your head up. As you get used to walking, go a little faster. Continue this until, in time,
you’re walking briskly enough to get your heart pumping and your breathing deep.
Another good low-impact type of exercise is swimming or water-exercise. The water makes you
buoyant and takes your weight off your joints even as it provides resistance during your exercise.
Swimming and water-exercise strengthens and builds muscle, increases stamina, and improves
This exercise works your mind, your facial muscles, and your heart. It consists of giving other
people a happy smile. A variation is to add a pleasant greeting. Exercise yourself by letting
someone with just a couple of items go before you at the grocery store, or by holding a door open
for an older person or someone whose arms are full. Be creative. Exercises like this work by
taking your mind off yourself and putting it on another person—for their good rather than your
own. They also cause a release of serotonin—the natural feel-good chemical—in your brain.
And when you make your lips and facial muscles contract into a smile, you automatically make
yourself feel better. Go on, try it!
Leslie Vandever—known as “Wren” to the readers of RheumaBlog, her personal blog about
living well with rheumatoid arthritis—is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more
than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.
• Are Isometric Exercises a Good Way to Build Strength? (2012, March 31) Mayo Clinic.
Retrieved on April 4, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/expert-
• Page, P. Current Concepts in Muscle Stretching for Exercise and Rehabilitation. (2012, Feb.)
National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on April 4, 2014 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
• Steakly, L. A Closer Look at How Stretching May Benefit the Body. (2011, Nov. 8)
Stanford Medicine. Retrieved on April 4, 2014 from http://scopeblog.stanford.edu/2011/11/