For many years, people with arthritis were warned to limit their activities to protect their joints. Now, studies show that exercise actually helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness. Here are some major benefits of exercising with arthritis, and suggestions for how to work out safely.
The Benefits of Exercising:
- Maximize your range of motion. People with arthritis often try to cope with the pain by holding their joints in bent positions that feel more comfortable. Unfortunately, this causes further loss of mobility Exercise helps to keep your joints as flexible as possible and prevent further damage.
- Strengthen your muscles and bones. Strong muscles and bones provide more support and protection for fragile joints. Weight bearing exercises build up muscle and thicken your bones.
- Lose excess weight. You burn a lot more calories when you’re moving around, which of course helps with weight loss. A more active lifestyle will help you reach and maintain your ideal weight without resorting to dangerously low calorie diets.
- Improve cardiovascular fitness. Endurance exercises that are gentle on your joints will make your heart work more efficiently without aggravating your arthritis. You’ll feel more energetic and reduce your risk for many health conditions including heart disease and obesity.
- Make daily activities easier. Stiff joints interfere with daily pleasures and tasks, from playing with your grandchildren to just buttoning a shirt. Exercise improves your ability to function and live independently.
- Boost your mood. Living with chronic pain may cause depression. Physical activity elevates your mood and helps you sleep better. You can even make new friends by enrolling in group classes like tai chi or water aerobics.
Top Exercises for Arthritis:
- Design a balanced program. A well-designed fitness program includes exercises for flexibility, strength, and endurance. Stop what you’re doing if you feel any sharp pain. This conventional wisdom for exercisers is even more important when dealing with arthritis.
- Stretch. Daily flexibility moves will help restore your range of motion. Warm up with a little walking in place and do these exercises in a controlled manner. One simple stretch for fingers is to massage your hands. Then, alternate extending and closing your fingers into a loose fist.
- Train for strength. Strengthen your muscles with resistance exercises using weights, elastic bands or your own body weight. For example, target your knees by sitting in a chair and slowly straightening and bending each leg.
- Perform low-impact aerobics. Walking, aqua aerobics and stationary bicycles are just a few examples of endurance activities that are easy on your body. Exercising in warm water is especially good because the temperature and buoyancy protects damaged joints.
Additional Safety Tips:
- Talk with your doctor. Be sure to talk with your doctor before beginning an exercise program to find the best approach for your type of arthritis. Your physician can recommend safe activities and help you avoid injury.
- Build up gradually. Start conservatively and progress gradually. When you’re comfortable with walking in water, you may want to add more intense movements like leg lifts.
- Modify your workouts during flare-ups. Your doctor can advise you about exercising during flare-ups. You may need to rest or modify your program to alleviate pressure on the affected joints.
- Find the best time of day for you. Many people experience morning stiffness, so experiment to find the best time of day for you. Taking a warm shower first or using a heat pack may also make exercising more comfortable.
- Work with physical or occupational therapists. Therapists with experience working with arthritis can provide more guidance. They can help you learn to move safely during your workouts and all your daily activities.
Exercise makes it easier to live with arthritis. Manage your pain and stay healthy with safe and regular workouts using activities that you enjoy.