According to the Arthritis Foundation, exercise is essential for living with and managing arthritis. Gone are the days when people with arthritis were told to limit their exercise and movement in order to avoid further damaging their joints. Research has shown that a regular exercise routine can reduce inflammation, increase flexibility and greatly improve quality of life for those living with arthritis. While there are certain precautions to take before beginning an exercise program, and a certain amount of educating yourself on what to do or not do, there is no reason for your arthritis to force you to sit on the sidelines.
First, consult your physician. Almost everyone attempting a new exercise regime is given this advice, but for people living with arthritis, it’s advice you can’t afford to ignore. Since each type of arthritis comes with its own unique set of challenges, consulting with a doctor who is well-versed in your type of arthritis and your particular physical health is key.
Second, start slowly. If you are in a consistent amount of pain already, you’ll need to pay particular attention to how exercise affects you. Some soreness is to be expected, but if by beginning slowly, you can avoid injuring yourself.
Third, look for programs designed for people with arthritis. If you are interested in an exercise class, make sure your instructor has specific training and experience in teaching people with arthritis. These classes are designed to be gentle and low-impact and can teach you specific techniques for doing exercises in the most beneficial way possible.
If you decide to create your own exercise regimen, remember to include an adequate warm-up by walking or doing another activity at a gentle pace. Some people even sit in a hot bath or hot tub!
The Arthritis Foundation recommends that every work-out for people with arthritis have at least one of the following elements:
Flexibility or stretching exercises aimed at increasing/maintaining your range of motion. After warming up, devote at least 15 minutes to stretching--perhaps a yoga class or sequence designed especially for people with arthritis. Don’t push yourself beyond what is comfortable, but hold the stretches for one or two breaths longer than you want in order to make progress. This may be the most important element to an exercise program for people living with arthritis.
Strength Training. The Arthritis Foundation recommends including some sort of strength training into your exercise program every other day. This helps build up the muscles around your joints, which can take some of the stress off of the joints themselves. Start small! Unless you already have a routine that includes lifting weights, begin with isometric exercises --simply contracting and flexing your muscles. From there you can gradually increase until you are using your own body for resistance, i.e. doing gentle squats and leg lifts. Remember to take a day off in between strength training sessions to give your muscles time to recover. Don’t forget to give your joints the support they need by wearing appropriate braces and using props. For example, if your knees are achy, wear a compression knee brace. Or if the soles of your feet are painful, wear orthotics in your shoes.
Aerobic Exercise: Aerobic exercises help to elevate your heart rate, make you sweat and contribute to your overall physical and mental wellbeing. Avoid doing anything high impact such as jogging or running. Stick to lower impact exercises like walking, water aerobics, swimming or cycling. Ideally, work up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three or four days per week --but start slowly, even five minutes is better than nothing!
Then give yourself five to ten minutes to cool down by slowing your pace and breathing. Soak in a bath with epsom salts to draw out the lactic acid in your muscles and/or ice any sore joints to reduce inflammation.
Living with arthritis doesn’t mean you have to give up all of the activities you’ve enjoyed. In fact, a consistent exercise practice can enhance your quality of life and help you maintain your strength and flexibility.