Are you sitting comfortably? MAXINE GORDON reports on the unique York fitness class for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

TO warm up, the class do a set of knee lifts, then sweep their arms above their heads, finishing off with a some nifty footwork.

Next, there is a work-out with stretch bands and mini core balls - all carried out in artistic synchronicity and carefully conducted by York Pilates tutor Emma Scaling.

Emma, 29, has been teaching Pilates for eight years and runs weekly classes at venues across York.

But today's class is special - it is for sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and the participants do the work-out from their chairs.

Emma runs two classes for RA sufferers every Saturday morning from the Park Inn hotel on North Street.

The first class is mat based, and suited to patients with a good amount of movement and flexibility. The second is chair-bound, for people with less mobility.

Emma says Pilates is a great way for people with RA to feel better and get stronger. "Pilates is a conditioning exercise. It helps build flexibility, and strength and endurance. It improves co-ordination, balance, and strengthens the core."

She added: " People with rheumatoid arthritis find their joints are very stiff and suffer from fatigue and, because of the inflammation in their joints, feel pain.

"One of the biggest hurdles is that because they are in so much pain they think that doing exercise will make it worse. But doing some form of controlled exercise strengthens the muscles, lubricates the joints and alleviates symptoms."

During the class, clients run a little ball up and down their bodies to aid movement in their joints. A larger ball is then placed between the small of their back and the back of the chair, and the class work their core muscles – the ones supporting the abdomen and lower back – as well as concentrate on creating correct posture.

Stretch bands are used to exercise the arms and legs. People work at their own pace and at their own levels. Emma says: "People with RA have to be careful to make sure they protect their joints and do controlled, fluid movements, working to their own ability."

Emma often gives clients exercises to carry out at home. Most, she says, report an improvement in their mobility and movement. "When muscles are strong, joints become stronger." Emma added: "It can also make the client feel more empowered; that they are doing something to help themselves."

Maureen Dow, 77, has been living with RA for almost 20 years and suffers from fatigue, aching joints. Inflammation causes her arms and feet to swell up "like footballs".

She has been attending the special Pilates class for three years and has noticed an improvement in her health, strength, mood and sense of wellbeing.

She said: "I have to catch a bus to get the the class. It used to take me ten to 12 minutes to walk to the bus stop, but now I can do it comfortably in seven.

"I feel stronger in my upper arms and my legs are stronger, and I don't get so depressed. I do my exercises at home, a few minutes every day. It does help alleviate symptoms and give me quality of life. Mentally, it makes me feel good."

Working from a chair is ideal, she adds. "I cannot do a normal Pilates mat class; I could get down but I couldn't get up again! Emma has adapted Pilates for us."

The class is organised through the York RA Support Group and is part of a city council initiative called HEAL (Health, Exercise, Activity and Lifestyle), designed to encourage people with a medical condition into fitness. There are 14 different classes on offer in York, for people with all sorts of health concerns, from cancer and heart disease to back pain and osteoarthritis.

Jason Feavers, of the HEAL programme, said: "There is a strong evidence base that exercise can help manage or improve certain health conditions, reduce symptoms or even make then better."

He said many people with health problems stop exercising and can develop further complications, such as weight gain and high blood pressure. HEAL is designed to give them access to safe and effective fitness pursuits.

To join a class, people need to be referred by a health professional, such as a GP, physiotherapist or specialist.

- Find out more about the HEAL Programme at

- Contact Emma Scaling via Facebook: or email or mobile: 07742 340 585

- The York Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Group meets on the second Saturday of each month, from 3pm-5pm, at the Priory Street Centre, 15 Priory Street (off Micklegate), York. The centre is fully accessible and there are a few parking spaces for blue badge holders.

- For further information, contact Susan Blore: Phone: 01904 642227/ Email: