Amanda’s Story: I Love to Exercise – Despite Rheumatoid Arthritis
After her rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis, Amanda John gave up on exercise. Find out how she found her way back to fitness and improved her symptoms.
By Kristen Stewart
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurLiving with Rheumatoid ArthritisNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can make doing various tasks difficult, including exercise, which is important for maintaining mobility. Just ask Amanda John, 34, of Charlotte, N.C.
Over 1 million people in the U.S. are living with RA, and like many of them, John's life before her diagnosis eight years ago was very active. “I grew up dancing and got into running after college,” she says. “My typical weekly fitness routine was to do a step class or a spinning class one day, and other days I either ran or used an elliptical machine." She was also lifting light weights and doing cardio intervals.
Then, over a period of several months, she started experiencing strange physical symptoms, like intermittent pain in the arch of her left foot. One day, she developed severe pain in the ball of her left foot after a strenuous run on the treadmill. At first her doctor wondered if it was a stress fracture, however nothing showed up on an X-ray. Within two weeks, she had the same pain in the same place in her right foot.
Even after wearing supportive shoes and staying off of her feet as much as possible, the pain grew worse. To top it off, one day she woke up with her left pointer finger swollen like a sausage. “I went back to the doctor a week later when my right pointer finger started swelling, too,” she says.
Her doctor sent her for additional X-rays and a full panel of blood work. Three days later, she got the news: Her blood work tested positive for rheumatoid factor — which can indicate rheumatoid arthritis — and needed to see a rheumatologist.
Giving Up on Exercise Because of Rheumatoid Arthritis
For the next year and a half, exercise took a back seat as John struggled to get her RA symptoms under control. “It hurt to even put shoes on, much less take a short walk,” she says. “Tying my shoelaces was problematic. I went through an extended period of complete inactivity.” Eventually, when her condition stabilized and she was no longer in daily pain, she realized that she just didn’t feel like herself without exercise in her life.
John started exercising again slowly, with walks in the park. When that went well, she began running. After that it was full speed ahead for her, running three 5Ks in a two-month period. After the quick success of running those races, her feet were killing her, and her doctor warned that the impact of running was bad for her feet. “Instead of finding a different activity," she says, "I stopped exercising for several years because I didn’t know what else to do."
Finding the Way Back to Fitness With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Finally in 2013, with a vacation on the horizon, John decided it was time to lose some weight, build up ankle strength, and get back into shape. She took advantage of a personal training package at her gym. “I will always count that as one of the best decisions I have ever made because working with a trainer offered me consistency and accountability, while eliminating my fear of hurting myself,” she says.
Although at first she was reluctant to do some activities her trainer suggested, over time she’s given them a try and realized how much she can actually do — and that some of her limitations were much more mental than physical.
She now works with her trainer twice a week, doing a mix of cardio, exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, and planks, core work, and stretching. On other days, she takes an exercise class, goes for a walk, or does a number of activities ranging from dance parties at her neighborhood pool to yoga to boxing, to keep exercise interesting.
Since getting back to fitness, John has lost 40 pounds and built muscle around problem joints for added support and significant range of motion improvements in every part of her body.
Chris Cooper, a National Strength and Conditioning Association-certified personal trainer and co-owner of Active Movement and Performance in Massapequa Park, N.Y., recommends a similar regimen of exercise for people with rheumatoid arthritis. “Start with a full-body warm-up that includes mobility and range-of-motion exercises,” he says. “Next, focus on strengthening muscles through resistance exercises, with both body weight and external resistance. This will bring strength and stability to the your joints.” Work with your doctor or a skilled personal trainer to find specific exercises that will be most beneficial for you.
John not only remains active, but also shares her experiences through a blog, , that she began writing in 2009 to help people know that it’s possible to live an active, fun-filled life with RA.
“I wish I’d known five years ago that my biggest obstacle with rheumatoid arthritis and consistent activity was fear,” John says. “Do I have to make modifications to certain activities? Yes. Are there things I can’t or will never be able to do? Yes. But even the limited types of exercise I allowed myself to do at first made a huge difference,” she says.
Video: Little Women: Dallas - Amanda's Biggest Little Moments in Season 1 | Lifetime
How to Root a Galaxy S4
6 Uplifting Podcasts To Listen To When Youre In A Funk
Alcohol Might Not Actually Kill Your Brain Cells
Party Report Card: Prabal Gurung’s Target Collaboration LaunchParty
A brief history of red lipstick
How to Cancel a Venmo Payment
12 Common Hair Myths Debunked
How to Look Good While Growing out a Short Haircut
If You Messed Up, Do This
The 9 Best Festive Holiday Champagne Cocktail Recipes
What I Learned From Interning at Who What Wear
Ultimate guide to the barbell squat
Use blogs as a career tool for becoming super-connected
How to Help Someone You Love Quit Smoking
New Netflix Series Explores Humans’ Bond With Dogs’