When it comes to managing arthritis, exercise is a crucial aspect of your lifestyle. It helps to increase strength and flexibility, whilst also reducing pain in the joints and minimising the impact of fatigue. Keeping this in mind can be difficult when you’re feeling stiff and your joints are painful, and when the thought of walking down the street or swimming for 5 minutes seems overwhelming.
You don’t need to be a competitive athlete in order to reduce your arthritis symptoms; moderate levels of exercise can help to keep your weight healthy, and ease the pain that you are feeling.
Using exercise to combat your arthritis is crucial to keeping your mobility high, and your head higher.
Why is exercise vital?
Exercise can help you in a wide range of ways, in particular by improving your general health without hurting or damaging your joints.
The main benefits include:
- Strengthening your muscles (especially those around your joints)
- Helping to maintain bone strength
- Providing you with more energy throughout the day
- Supporting a better sleeping pattern and improved ability to sleep
- Improving your balance, allowing you to move more efficiently
- Keeping and maintaining a healthy weight
- Improving your overall quality of life
It is a myth that exercise will make your joint pain worse, however lack of exercise will aggravate joint pain and make you stiffer over time.
This is because you need strength in the muscles around your bone to support your bone itself. By not exercising, you weaken the supporting muscles, which places more stress and tension on your joints.
Always check with your doctor
Make sure you talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you begin implementing your own exercise in your day to day life. They’ll let you know which types of exercise are best for you, ensuring that you do not damage any of your joints. Your healthcare provider will be able to recommend exercises for you, or provide an exercise plan designed to minimise the pain and risk for your joints.
These exercises may involve motion exercises, strength exercises, aerobic exercises or a range of all three. These will be based on your symptoms and will work alongside your strengths to make sure you see the maximum benefits. The benefits of each type of exercise are listed below.
Strength exercises focus on developing and building the muscles that support your joints. One example is weight training, which will be tailored to help you maintain or even increase your muscle strength. It’s important to avoid exercising the same two muscles groups one day after the other; make sure that you take the necessary time to rest, and take an extra day if you are feeling particularly sore or swollen.
When you start your program, make sure you stay on the basics, training no more than three times a week. This will provide you with a significant benefit from the outset. If preferred, two training days a week will also help you to maintain your strength.
Aerobic – also known as endurance – exercises will help with your overall fitness. They are designed to help you improve your cardiovascular system as well as help you control you weight and provide you with more energy.
Examples of aerobic training include everything from walking, cycling and swimming. It is advised that you try to spend around 150 minutes of your time completing moderate aerobic exercise each and every week. This can be split into smaller blocks in order to protect your joints and reduce any pain.
It is advised that moderate intensity aerobic exercise is the most effective when conducted over a few days of the week. If you push yourself too much, you risk damage to your joints and could actually do more harm than good.
Motion exercises focus on a range of different movements, and stretching your muscles to increase their elasticity. This can be done through everything from full yoga sessions to smaller sets of movements. These exercises will help you in daily activities such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves and walking the dog.
Body awareness exercises, such as gentle forms of yoga or tai chi, will also help you to increase your balance, improve your posture and coordination, and help you to relax. Make sure you inform you instructor of your condition so that they can help you throughout the session and avoid any movements that may cause you pain.
Do’s and Don’ts
When it comes to exercising with arthritis, there are a number of do’s and don’ts to consider when organising your routines. Here are some tips to help you stay on track:
DO: Include a wide variety of exercise in your weekly routine
By including a variety of motion, strength and aerobic exercises, you can keep your muscles and overall body in top health. You can vary your routine each day, which will help you avoid overstraining and doing any damage to your muscles or joints.
DON’T: Start with high-intensity exercise
Whilst moderate intensity exercise is beneficial for your body, starting at a high intensity can cause more harm than good. Overstraining can cause damage and tears within your muscles, limiting their ability to support your joints. This can result in further damage to your body, and in the long term can do more harm than good. Always keep your workouts at a moderate rate to ensure that you benefit.
DO: Gradually increase your intensity
Whilst you should avoid high-intensity workouts, you need to make sure that you gradually increase your intensity over time. This will help you to maintain and build up your strength, which in the long term will reduce the overall impact of your arthritis. You will find that your joints are not as sore as they used to be and you feel much stronger than you once were.
DO: Use pain as a guide for your workouts
When choosing which workouts to complete, as well as the intensity, make sure you use pain as a guide – if a particular exercise or routine is causing you significant amounts of pain, it is best that you stop it straight away. This is your body telling you that something is wrong. If you continuously feel pain in a particular area, consult your doctor and they will be able to provide you with advice on how you can proceed.
DON’T: Treat all arthritis the same
Everyone with arthritis is different, meaning that each exercise program must be specially tailored to them. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and should focus on their strengths to get the most out of their exercise. In order to create a regime best tailored for you, talk to either your doctor or physiotherapist. They will be able to provide you with specific exercises to help you reach your potential, whilst also ensuring that you can efficiently recover and don’t feel too stiff or in too much pain.