Exercising with Arthritis
Check out this great post by GoodLife, a guide to exercising with osteoarthritis! While we often encourage exercise, please speak with your health care professional before beginning any new form of exercise.
“It is important to keep exercising, even when you are arthritic. In the past it was thought that exercise made arthritis worse. The assumption was that arthritis caused wear and tear on the joints and therefore exercising would worsen the condition and speed the deterioration of joints. However, health research has shown that the opposite is in fact that case and that more exercise can reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
If you start exercising on a regular basis you can reduce joint pain and stiffness. For many people this has the added benefit of greatly improving mobility. Being more mobile means you can regain some of your social life and improve mood and mental well being too.
Exercise is important for two reasons.
The more exercise you do the more likely you are to lose some excess weight, or maintain a healthy weight. This is very important if you have arthritis because any additional weight carried places more pressure on your already straining joints. By losing weight you literally take a load off your joints and give them more room to move and to relax.
It keeps the muscles around your joints strong. This extra muscle helps to support ligaments and tendons and aid movement in the joints themselves, which can help to alleviate some of the pain. If your muscles are wasting away there is little left other than bone and tendons.
All joints can benefit from exercise, but it is especially helpful in the knee. Knees are one of the most common areas of osteoarthritic pain. If you can lose around 10 pounds of excess weight through exercise and healthy dieting, you can reduce the pain felt in your knees by up to 50 percent. Not only can the pain subside, you may also postpone the need for a knee replacement for many years.
If you have arthritis, exercise, in fact all forms of movement, can be uncomfortable. This quickly puts many people off exercising completely, however, as mentioned earlier it is important to keep mobile. Fortunately some exercises are ideally suited to those with arthritis. You may not feel comfortable doing all of these, as each individual will experience varying levels of pain and discomfort in different areas. However, you should be able to tackle several, if not most, and these exercises can then be used to create a regular workout.
It is better to exercise moderately daily than to do one long exercise session each week. If you do too much exercise you may just tire your body out and leave yourself feeling even worse. So take a slow and steady approach to start with your regular workouts.
Aim to perform 30 minutes of moderate exercise a few days a week. Set a goal for yourself for how many days that will be. Start with 2-3 and work up to 4-5 days. The health department guideline for healthy living is to do 150 minutes of exercise every week. If you can hit this target you will be well on your way to being a fitter, stronger and more active person.
Some medications can help when exercising too. Always read the label fully and speak to a pharmacist before using the medication.
1. Exercise in water
When you have arthritis you should focus on mostly low-impact exercise – exercising in water is zero impact! Just about any form of exercise in the water will benefit you. Water supports your body weight allowing you to exercise your muscles without straining your joints. Swimming is a good option, especially if your arthritis mostly affects your knees, hips or feet. Front crawl and backstroke can be done with minimal leg movement and no extension of the knee joint.
Aqua classes are popular in many fitness centers. These classes are often more enjoyable than swimming alone because of the social element. The exercises are designed to work the whole body and the class will include stretching too.
Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise. We should all be walking much more than we do, but unfortunately we have become slaves to the car. Walking burns calories, and although it uses energy at a much lower rate than running you can maintain a healthy walking pace for much longer. Some people would struggle to run for five minutes but still be able to walk for an hour with little problem.
Walking is a light exercise that is easy on the joints. So long as you have some sensible shoes that offer support and provide some shock absorbance you should be able to walk comfortably. Walking improves cardiovascular fitness, aids weight loss, helps to develop bone density, and builds muscle.
The best way to start walking is to make it a part of your daily routine. You could either have a dedicated walk every day, or start walking to your local shops for small grocery items. If you are lucky enough to still have a traditional baker’s shop, greengrocers or butchers, you could walk to see them each day. This makes your exercise a little more social as you get to meet people, even if it is only to smile and say hello.
3. Weight training
Weight training may seem a very daunting prospect. Your first thought is probably that it is only for Mr. Universe competitors and athletes. But weight training is an excellent way to improve joint health. As we said earlier, extra muscle helps to support your joints and weight training is all about building some muscle without the risk of wearing them down. Try a few basic movements every day to soon see, and feel, a difference to your strength and posture.
You should have at least one or two fitness sessions with a qualified trainer to ensure that you are lifting the weights correctly. The first rule of weight training is to start light and work up – not the other way around!
Of course, taking up exercise for the first time is hard enough for relatively fit and healthy people, but if you have arthritis you need to take some precautions. It is always a good idea to start by speaking with your healthcare provider first, although for a vast majority of people the only limit to what you can do is based on your own comfort levels.”