While you might believe that exercise would be contraindicated, when you suffer from arthritis it is actually quite the opposite. Individuals who had arthritis years ago were advised not to exercise thinking that it would damage the joints. But today, researchers have identified specific advantages for those who do exercise after the diagnosis of arthritis.
Prior to starting an exercise plan discuss your options with your Rheumatologist or primary care physician to help determine your options. The amount and form the exercise will take will depend upon the type of arthritis you suffer from, the joints which are involved, the stability of your joints, any joint replacements you have had done, other physical limitations and the level of inflammation in your joints.
In the first place exercise helps to increase the metabolic rate. This, in turn, helps to increase the amount of weight loss that can be achieved. And, when weight is one of the stressors that increases the pain, swelling and discomfort an individual experiences, then exercise can help to reduce the symptoms.
Exercise also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, increases energy levels, develops good sleep patterns, increases bone density, decreases problems with fatigue and depression and helps to improve self-esteem and self-confidence.
Regular and moderate exercise that spares the joints can also help to build strong muscles that support the joints, increases flexibility and improves the endurance of those who suffer from arthritis. Each of these benefits will help to reduce the amount of pain and swelling a person experiences and therefore reduce the amount of medication that an individual will require. (1)
Some find they are reluctant to start a program because it seems like such a daunting task or because they are in such pain. The important thing to remember about developing an exercise program when you suffer from arthritis is that it should be slow and the program should be fun. You aren’t starting a program to practice for the Olympics! Instead you are attempting to increase your flexibility and endurance.
Stretching exercises are a great way to begin. They help to increase flexibility and prepares the joints and muscles for more exercise. They also help you to perform your daily activities with greater ease. Once you are comfortable with these stretches and your flexibility has improved, it is time to move into some easy cardiovascular work or easy weight training.
If pain is a significant issue you can start with exercises in the pool. The water helps to reduce the impact on the joints and reduces the stress on your hips, knees and spine. There are many different types of aquatic programs designed specifically for individuals who suffer from arthritis so call around to your local pools, YMCAs and gyms to find a program that works for you.
There are several different exercises that will work both your cardiovascular system and increase your muscle strength that you can consider. Walking is an excellent choice that maintains flexibility, aids in bone health and builds strength. TaiChi is a gentle martial arts program that improves relaxation, mobility and range of motion. Yoga can aid with pain relief, relaxes stiff muscles and eases sore joints. Bicycling can be done both indoors and outdoors. It is an excellent low impact option. And, while you may not consider it, jogging can still be an option when performed on soft surfaces and using appropriate shoes.
To get the most benefit from any program you must be consistent and build up to working gradually. This means working each day with one or two days off per week and gradually increasing the amount of time you spend exercising. The best time to exercise is when your symptoms are at a minimum. For most this means after the morning stiffness subsides.
Never overdo your exercises. This is not a program where “No Pain, no Gain!” is applicable. Listen to the signals your body is giving you. If there is too much discomfort during an exercise then back off just a little and work up to the amount you first attempted. Set realistic goals for yourself and stop if any joints are swollen, tender, or warm.
Exercising with arthritis is an important part of keeping the joints mobile and healthy. Without exercise you are likely to get stiff and be reduced to sitting or a wheelchair more quickly than if you were able to stay mobile. However, it is also important to incorporate rest periods and rest days into your program to allow your body time to heal and recover.
(1) Arthritis Foundation: Introduction to Exercise