Research has revealed that people who have arthritis don’t exercise as much as they should. The joint swelling and pain that goes with arthritis may make the sufferer think the best thing to do is to limit all activity. Actually, exercise is one of the best things you can do if you have arthritis – as long as you’re careful.
The benefits of exercise
Exercise offers a lot of advantages for the arthritis sufferer. Here are just a few of the benefits of staying active:
– less pain and stiffness
– more flexibility
– stronger muscles, which can support and protect joints better
– more stamina
– improved gait (walking)
– better overall body function, including the ability to do regular daily tasks
And aerobic exercise may not only promote heart health; it may also decrease inflammation.
The most important thing to remember if you have arthritis and want to start exercising is to talk to your doctor first. There may be specific exercises that will be really good for you, and others that you should avoid. You may also get good advice from a physical therapist or athletic trainer.
Especially at the beginning, take things slow. Keep your sessions short and do easier, simpler exercises. You can always work up to longer, tougher sessions.
Choose activities you like or have had success with in the past. This will make you more likely to continue them. And don’t forget about the social aspects – if you hate exercising alone, join a group. You may even be able to find one that focuses on exercise for people with arthritis.
Applying heat to affected joints before exercising may help ease pain and stiffness. It may be best to begin each session with gentle stretching or range of motion exercises to help your body warm up. Then you can move on to strengthening exercises (a small amount of weight can be quite effective here) and possibly even something aerobic. After the session, some people like to use cold packs to limit swelling.
Don’t push yourself. You want exercise to help you feel better, not worse.
If you do occasionally overdo things, you’ll probably know right away. But if you’re not sure, here are some signs of problems:
– increased swelling
– decreased range of motion
– pain that’s greater or lasts longer than usual after a session
– muscle weakness or fatigue
If you’re concerned that you might have injured yourself, be sure to get in touch with your doctor or physical therapist right away.
Some exercises may do more harm than good. For example, repetitive motions of any joint, but especially those affected by arthritis, can cause more problems than they solve. The types and amounts of exercise you can do may depend on how much inflammation you have, which joints are involved, and how stable those joints are. Your physician or physical therapist can help you decide what’s best for you.
You’ll probably have good days and bad days. Some sessions will be easier for you; some will be harder. The point is to keep going. Exercise for the person with arthritis can be a challenge. But when you find that you can move more gracefully or with less pain, or you can do more things longer, you’ll realize that exercise is worth the effort.