It is no secret that exercise is good for you, but what if you have arthritis? Could exercise be a bad thing? Could it make your arthritis worse? The simple answer is NO! Yet, arthritis is one of the most common reasons people give for limiting physical activity and recreational pursuits. Exercise is crucial for people with arthritis and, just as important, is that it be the right kind of exercise.
Regular exercise has many health benefits for people with arthritis. It increases strength, flexibility, balance and posture. Exercise reduces joint pain, strengthens the muscles around your joints and can help you maintain bone strength and density. Besides helping control weight, routine exercise makes it easier to get a good night’s sleep which helps combat fatigue. Being physically active can also delay the onset of arthritis-related disability and help people with arthritis manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
While some might think exercise will aggravate joint pain and stiffness, that is not the case. Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff. That’s because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones. Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints. Besides decreased pain tolerance, weak muscles, stiff joints and poor balance, which are common to many forms of arthritis, can be made worse by inactivity. For many older people with arthritis, joint and muscle changes due to aging can also make matters worse.
For those with arthritis, participating in joint-friendly physical activity can improve arthritis pain, function, mood and quality of life. Joint-friendly physical activities are low-impact, which means they put less stress on the body, reducing the risk of injury. Joint-friendly activities include walking, biking and swimming. Body awareness exercises, such as gentle forms of yoga or tai chi, can help improve balance, prevent falls, improve posture and coordination and promote relaxation. Routine activities such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves and walking the dog count as well. Any movement, no matter how small, can help.
While you should aim to do some form of exercise every day, ideally, you should choose those that help with flexibility, strength and overall fitness. Stretching and range of motion exercises help maintain or improve the flexibility of your joints and nearby muscles. Strength exercises build muscle strength, provide stability to joints and improve the ability to perform daily tasks. For overall fitness, look for aerobic exercises that get you moving and increase your heart rate as these will also help improve the health of your heart and lungs and can also help with endurance, weight loss and prevention of other health problems.
Many types of exercise can help with flexibility, strength and overall fitness at the same time including swimming or water exercise classes, tai chi, yoga, cycling, walking, chair exercises, low-impact aerobics, strength training and dancing. The exercise you choose should be something you enjoy and are committed to doing. Consider exercising with friends or in a group if you find it difficult to get motivated.
Start slowly to ease your joints into exercise if you haven’t been active for a while. If you push yourself too hard, you can overwork your muscles and worsen your joint pain. Trust your instincts and do not exert more energy than you think your joints can handle. Take it easy and slowly increase your exercise length and intensity as you progress. Sometimes it can be difficult to exercise due to pain. An inflamed, hot or painful joint needs rest, but too little exercise can cause muscle weakness, pain and stiffness. It’s important to find the right balance of rest and exercise.
Exercise and arthritis can and should coexist. There are many different forms of exercise to choose from but the type best suited for you will depend on your personal preferences, the severity of your symptoms and whether or not you have other musculoskeletal conditions or health issues. It is important to stay as active as your health allows and change your activity level depending on your arthritis symptoms.
Remember, some physical activity is better than none. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise regime. Need a provider? Find one here