Exercising with arthritis can be a challenge when you feel like the Tin Man (or Woman) in need of some grease. Arthritis is inflammation of the joints and typically presents itself as joint pain, swelling, stiffness and/or redness. One in six Canadians ages 15 and older report symptoms of arthritis, and that number is expected to increase to one in five within the next 20 years, according to The Arthritis Society.
Dealing with arthritis symptoms doesn’t mean you should give up your favorite activities or stop exercising. In fact, exercise keeps joints healthy and supports overall muscle, bone and connective tissue health. Furthermore, staying active can actually lessen pain and reduce your symptoms.
Of course, before you hit the gym, park or trails, be sure to check with your healthcare provider on your exercise regimen. Once you’re cleared for getting out there, here are five tips for staying active with arthritis.
Include a range of exercises in your routine
While it can be tempting to stick with your tried-and-true exercise regimen, the best way to reduce arthritis symptoms and build overall fitness is including a mix of flexibility, strength and aerobic activities. This could be dedicating a day to each discipline (taking a yoga class one day, lifting free weights another day and then briskly walking for 30 minutes a different day), or spending a portion of your workout doing each. No matter how you choose to balance your workout regimen, covering your bases will ensure that you’re getting all of the benefits of each.
Get a supportive knee sleeve
If you’re experiencing mild knee pain when you bike, walk or do yoga, consider wearing a knee sleeve like the Ultra Flex Athletics Knee Compression Sleeve (see more like this). Knee sleeves offer compression to prevent swelling and provide support and alignment for the knee joint.
Choose lower impact activities during flare-ups
There might be some days when your body just isn’t feeling it. When your arthritis flares up, pick a lower impact activity like swimming or pedaling the stationary bike. Lighter activity will help stimulate joint recovery without making your symptoms worse.
Warm up with dynamic stretches
When most people think of stretching, they’re imagining static stretching, where you hold a stretch position for 30 seconds or longer. But to get ready for exercise, you actually want to do dynamic stretching, where you get your muscles and joints warmed up for more complex or intense movements. Spend a few minutes prior to your workout or activity doing dynamic stretches like arm circles, lunges and high steps, and you’ll be ready to work out and less likely to pull a muscle or get injured.
Eat to support your activity and reduce inflammation
When you’re active, you need to eat well to help your body recover. Dieticians typically recommend adults eat roughly one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (68 grams of protein if you weigh 68 kilograms (150 pounds), for example). Eating several servings of vegetables also ensures you’re getting enough antioxidants, which can help prevent inflammation. Additionally, certain foods can lead to increased inflammation, including sugar, refined carbohydrates, dairy and gluten. Try eliminating these foods from your diet for a week or ideally longer and note how you feel.
Having arthritis doesn’t signal the end of being active. On the contrary, exercise and staying active is crucial to feeling your best and preventing your symptoms from getting worse. Use these tips to accommodate your favorite activities, and maybe you’ll even find a few new ones to try!