The importance of physical activity in our lives and for our health cannot be overstated, especially for those living with arthritis. Exercise benefits your joints by reducing stiffness and pain, builds and strengthens muscles around the joints, and improves flexibility. Overall, generous amounts of physical activity will improve your energy levels, control your weight, lift your mood and help prevent other conditions like heart disease. It is important then to have a basic idea of how to get your exercise program started. The following tips will provide you some basic information you’ll need to exercise safely and successfully, and help you energize your life and well being.
1. Before beginning an exercise program, people with arthritis should first discuss exercise options with their doctors and other health care providers. Most doctors recommend exercise for their patients, and many people begin with easy, range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics. People with arthritis can participate in a variety of, but not all, sports and exercise programs. Your doctor will know which, if any, sports are off-limits.
Your doctor may also have suggestions about how to get started, or may make a referral to a physical therapist. It is best to find a physical therapist that has experience working with people who have arthritis. These experts can design an appropriate home exercise program and teach clients about pain-relief methods, proper body mechanics (placement of the body for a given task, such as lifting a heavy box), joint protection, and conserving energy.
2. The simplicity of walking makes it a favorite exercise for many people. But the simplicity also can make it difficult to keep motivated unless you mix up your routine from time to time. Consider these options to help keep your walking session more interesting:
* Change your location. If you normally walk in a neighborhood, try out the local mall or airport concourse, or go to a different neighborhood. Plan vacations to include good places to walk.
* Find a partner. Having a regular partner can be a social outlet, a boredom reliever and commitment reinforcer. And who says you can only have one partner? Walking with a group can be a good way to keep in touch with old friends or make some new ones.
3. It is important to include flexibility training with your exercise program because it helps relieve contractures. Contractures are joints that remain partially contracted even when they’re not in use. As a result, this shortens muscles around the joint making it less strong and unable to absorb the shock and stress of movement. Contractures also cut of circulation to a muscle decreasing its supply of oxygen and nutrients, and allowing waste products to build up in muscle cells.
4. Exercising in a pool, known as aquatics, has significant health benefits for a person with arthritis. The soothing warmth and buoyancy of warm water make it a safe, ideal environment for relieving arthritis pain and stiffness and improving the range of movement of joints affected by arthritis. Immersing in warm water raises your body temperature, causing your blood vessels to dilate and increase circulation. Water supports joints and lessens stress on them to encourage free movement, and may also act as resistance to help build muscle strength. Using a spa adds a third component to the therapy – massage. Jet nozzles release a mixture of warm water and air, massaging your body and helping you relax tight muscles. Talk with your doctor to determine whether water exercise is appropriate for you.
5. Yoga exercise may help people with arthritis deal with pain and stiffness, improve range of motion and increase strength for daily activities. Yoga is an ancient system of mental, physical and spiritual training practiced daily by millions of people of all ages and all levels of wellness. For thousands of years people have turned to Yoga to build flexibility and strength, improve concentration, relieve stress and increase energy.
If you are thinking about participating in yoga, there are several branches of practice to consider, including a devotional form called Bhakti Yoga and the meditation of Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga, a system of gentle stretches and balancing exercises that balance energy and provide low-impact, full-body conditioning is the most common form of Yoga for Westerners.
6. While you are exercising, there are some important tips you can use to make sure you have a safe, effective workout that benefits your arthritis and doesn’t make it worse.
* Don’t hurry. Exercise at a comfortable, steady pace that allows you to speak to someone without running out of breath. Exercising at this pace gives your muscles time to relax between each repetition.
* Breathe while you exercise. Don’t hold your breath. Exhale as you do the exercise, and inhale as you relax between repetitions. Counting out loud during the exercise will help you breathe deeply and regularly.
* Be alert for “warning signs.” Stop exercising right away if you have chest tightness, severe shortness of breath, feel dizzy, faint, or sick to your stomach. If these symptoms occur, contact your doctor immediately. If you develop muscle pain or a cramp, gently rub and stretch the muscle. When the pain is gone, continue exercising with slow, easy movements. You may need to change position or the way you are doing the exercise. A good general rule is to stop exercising if you start having sharp pain or more pain than usual. Pain is your warning signal that something is wrong.
7. Many fitness routines can require strength, flexibility and quick movements. For arthritis patients such movements may be harmful to fragile joints. Here are some workouts to consider avoiding when you exercise:
* Spinning – indoor cycling where riders push for higher speeds by standing up to ride, this movement can apply unwanted stress on the knees.
* Power yoga – a blend of aerobic exercise and yoga where participants jump from one pose to another, these jolting movements may trigger flares in arthritic joints.
* Kickboxing/Aerobics (ex. Tae Bo) – a hybrid of boxing and aerobic dance that involves kicking, punching and bouncing that can cause stress on the joints.
8. For those who enjoy being with others, exercise classes for people with arthritis are a safe and effective way to learn to exercise. Exercise classes are led by qualified instructors and have several advantages. First, exercise technique is emphasized and adaptations based on individual needs are easily arranged. Second, the group offers support and opportunities to socialize. Many of these programs can be found in health clubs, community recreation centers or YMCAs. The Arthritis Foundation maintains listings of a variety of 6-8 week programs offered in your area. Programs include stretching and strengthening, water aquatics, and others.
9. Soaking in a hot tub for fifteen minutes, set at a temperature of 95 to 104 degrees F can be an excellent way to prepare for and conclude an exercise session. It will warm up muscles, decrease joint pain and stiffness, an ease movement in joints.
Hot Tub Safety: If you have active inflammation and heat in your joints, high blood pressure, diabetes, a lung or heart condition, skin irritation or other serious illness check with your rheumatologist before using a hot tub or sauna. Pregnant women should not use a hot tub or sauna.
10. Both work and leisure activities are important for people with arthritis, but you can overdo them. It is wise to take short breaks and alternate heavy and light activities throughout the day. Learn to balance periods of work with rest breaks, so you don’t place too much stress on your joints or get too tired. You may need to take longer and perhaps more frequent rest breaks when your disease is more active.
Part of this balancing includes pacing yourself during the day, and also from day to day. Allow plenty of time to finish the things you start, so you won’t feel rushed. Don’t try to do too much at one time. Pacing also includes doing the hardest things when you’re feeling your best.