Exercise and physical activity is vital for our general health. Our bodies are designed to move and by not doing so can have a detrimental effect on our bodies. If you don’t use it, you may lose it! Keeping arthritic joints supple by staying as active as possible can reduce your pain, help you to stay independent and improve self-confidence.
Exercise can help to:
- Ease stiffness
- Improve joint movement
- Strengthen muscles
- Keep your heart healthy
- Aid weight loss, putting less strain on your joints
- Strengthen bones and maintain bone density
- Increase emotional well-being and confidence
- Relieves stress
Keeping fit can be easy and it is never too late to start!
Getting started is easy if you follow these simple rules:
- Set realistic goals, these will change as your condition changes
- Do exercise that you enjoy
- Do it regularly
Arthritis Research UK recommends to do 30 minutes of exercise that makes us a bit short of breath five times a week. Start gently and gradually increase the length of time you are exercising for and build it into your daily routine
What sort of exercise should I be doing?
- Stretching – helps to ease aches and pains and increases movement within joints
- Move as far as you can until you feel the muscle being stretched
- Hold for 10-15 seconds, then relax. Never ‘bounce’ a joint
- Repeat 3-5 times
We rarely use our joints full range of motion during the day. Overtime the structures around the joints (ligaments and tendons) can get tight and this can become painful. Stretching regularly enables the ligaments and tendons to be lengthened, which should prevent the joint from becoming painful.
Strengthening – helps the muscles to support the joint, reducing pain
- All strengthening exercises should be done slowly
- Start with a lower number of repetitions and build up gradually. It’s better to use low weights but do lots of slow, controlled repetitions. That way you’ll safely strengthen the muscles which support the joints.
Our natural reaction to pain is to limit our mobility. Joints can become very stiff and painful when immobile and the muscles can quickly weaken. This is often seen in arthritic patients. Doing regular strengthening exercises can help to build up the muscle, making it easier to be physically active. To strengthen a muscle we require some resistance, either from your own body weight or from additional weights. Pilates combines strengthening with improving posture and is a great form of exercise
Fitness – helps to keep our hearts healthy
- Swimming – is a brilliant all-round form of exercise for people with arthritis as the water supports your joints, making it easier to move them. The water provides resistance to help build the strength in the muscles whilst exercising your heart and lungs. People with Osteoporosis should also do weight bearing exercise to help maintain bone density.
- Hydrotherapy – is an effective treatment for arthritis and back pain. The class is supervised by a physiotherapist in a warm water pool.
- Aquarobics – provides a good overall workout but without the stress on the joints
- Walking- simple, cheap and an effective way to exercise. The load bearing element helps to improve bone density and reduces the risk of Osteoporosis. Start gently and increase the distance, time or gradient each day.
- Fitness classes – try low impact classes if you suffer from arthritis as high impact forms can aggravate symptoms.
- Cycling – helps to strengthen the knees and for general fitness. As it is not a weight-bearing activity it suits arthritic joints.
- Gym – The different pieces of equipment can be used to strengthen muscles and to increase your fitness. Discuss an exercise programme with a gym instructor.
When your body isn’t conditioned to frequent exercise you may notice slight increase in muscle soreness post exercise. This should never persist for more than a couple of hours. If it does it means you have overdone it. To cope with this, have a rest the following day and lower the amount of exercise. Gradually increase this by a few minutes each day. If you notice the joint is swollen then apply an ice pack for 10-15 minutes to the elevated joint. Be careful of ice burns and always wrap ice in a damp towel before applying to skin.
Try to avoid jogging and running as this is a heavy load bearing exercise and can increase pain in the joint due to the jarring action.