Which of these excuses best describe yours? “My joints are feeling achy.” “My knees and hips feel stiff every morning.” “My legs just won’t let me get out of bed in the morning.” If there was ever a good excuse not to exercise, the above reasons would be perfect. Right? WRONG! In fact, when your arthritis is acting up, that’s the exact time when you should get moving. Moving your joints helps to reduce pain and stiffness and helps to increase flexibility. Moving also helps strengthen muscles, increase muscle strength and also helps to keep the heart fit. Exercise will also help with weight reduction and contributes to overall well-being. I know it makes sense to take some time off from exercising when you are uncomfortable from arthritis, but when you take the day, or week, or month, or year, you are just making things worse for tomorrow.
So, what next? Where do you begin? How do you begin an exercise program that helps you feel better and not worse? There are a few types of exercises that are best for dealing with arthritis. Make sure your exercise program includes a balance of the following:
- Range-of-motion exercises (e.g., stretching) for normal joint movement, relieving stiffness, and maintaining flexibility
- Strengthening exercises (e.g., weight training, resistance exercises, body weight exercises) for keeping or increasing muscle strength, and supporting and protecting joints affected by arthritis. Include every other day unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.
- Aerobic or Endurance exercises (e.g., bicycle riding, walking, swimming, cardio gym machines) for improving cardio fitness, controlling weight, improving overall function, and relieving pressure on and inflammation in your joints. Include 20-30 minutes, 3 times per week unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.
Where to begin
Start with very easy low-impact exercises that will get your heart rate moving. As your body gets accustomed to the lightweight stuff, it’s okay to progress to more advanced exercises. For example, you may decide to start with water exercise, which is easiest on the joints. Once you master that, you may decide to progress to walking and biking, or even a sport. Always consult with your doctor to see which exercise program will be safe for you to try.
- Move your joints daily to prevent stiffness and loss of joint movement.
- Exercises should be done on a regular basis. You should try to do them on good days as well as bad days. If it’s a bad day, try modifying the exercise.
- Move an inflamed joint gently through the range of motion. Although it may be uncomfortable, move the joint slowly. Do not force the motion, going only as far as you feel comfortable.
- Begin each exercise session with a slow warm-up to reduce stress on your joints.
- As with any exercise program, seek the advice of your doctor.