Exercising with Arthritis: Strategies to Keep Moving
Millions of adults have to live with arthritis and you may be one of them. Besides being painful, arthritis can impact your quality of life and keep you from participating in your favorite activities.
When it comes to arthritis and exercise, it might cause some discomfort when you move, especially in the beginning. However, consistent exercise is one of the most effective ways to manage arthritis and can help you to continue enjoying regular life.
Arthritis: Inflammation of the joint capsule
A joint is formed by the intersection of two bones. Arthritis is inflammation, or swelling, of the joint capsule, the space where bones meet. Inflammation caused by arthritis can reduce the space in a joint capsule making it harder for bones to move, which in turn causes discomfort during movement.
Osteoarthritis occurs as the result of cartilage breaking down. Cartilage is the tissue that cushions joints, as it wears away, it can cause pain when the surfaces of bones come in contact with one another. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of joint capsules, which can cause severe inflammation that restricts joint motion.
There is no specific cause of arthritis; it occurs due to the human aging process. It makes any movement uncomfortable and painful and starting an exercise program may seem like a major challenge. However, there are some things that can be done to minimize how arthritis affects your body.
Here are some benefits of exercise for arthritis and a few simple strategies that you can use to successfully manage the condition.
1. Not moving is not an option
While arthritis may make movement a little uncomfortable, it’s much worse to not do any movement. A lack of regular movement means that chronic inflammation could change the structure of a joint, which, over time, can reduce its ability to move. Consistent movement means that a joint will maintain its optimal range-of-motion, and consequently your ability to move.
There can be different levels of discomfort: mild, moderate, and severe. For mild and moderate cases, movement itself can be the best form of treatment to ensure that joints can retain their optimal range-of-motion. Severe pain may require the services of a doctor, who can provide appropriate medication to reduce inflammation and pain.
2. A proper warm-up is essential
Exercise can elevate the temperature of muscle tissue while increasing the amount of blood flow to joint capsules. It allows the joints to move more easily the longer you participate in an exercise session. It can take from seven to 15 minutes to completely warm-up prior to an exercise session.
Start at a slow pace and as you feel your body start to warm-up and move better, increase the pace. By the end of the warm-up, you should be slightly sweaty and breathing quicker than normal.
3. The body makes its own painkillers
Exercise can elevate internal body temperature, which helps arthritic joints to move easier. But, more importantly, it also causes the brain to produce neurotransmitters that help to reduce the sensation of pain.
Even if the first few moments of exercise are uncomfortable, it’s important to remain consistent because once those neurotransmitters are released, your body would feel way more pliable.
This is what makes the role of exercise in arthritis management more important. As exercise becomes a regular habit, your brain and body will be more efficient at producing and using these neurotransmitters, which could help to lower the amount of pain you feel on a regular basis.
4. Losing weight can reduce stress on your joints
Carrying unnecessary kilograms of body fat can place more stress on joints. Exercise can burn calories to remove excess body weight and could reduce discomfort from arthritis. Losing weight could also allow joints to move completely through their structural range-of-motion and function more efficiently.
Exercise for arthritis
There are many ways to workout with arthritis. From walking and running to strength training with weights and swimming — you can perform almost all modes of exercise if you have arthritis, but you need to be mindful of causing unnecessary pain. The primary limitations to exercising with arthritis are the specific joints affected by the inflammation. For example, if you have arthritis in your knees, you should do exercises that require your knees to move (like indoor cycling), while at the same time avoiding exercises that could place pressure directly on the joints (like performing barbell squats with a heavy weight).
The impact forces of running or walking on a treadmill could increase discomfort. In that case, a low-impact solution like a rowing machine or stationary bike would make great options because gravity does not increase the effects of impact forces.
Also Read: How Does Exercise Benefit Your Body?
How to exercise with arthritis
First, exercise can help to manage arthritis and keep it from becoming worse. Yes, it may be a little uncomfortable when you first start moving, but not doing any movement will only allow the arthritis to get worse and possibly lead to more pain.
Begin a warm-up with an exercise that uses a number of muscles, but with a minimal amount of weight bearing; when at a fitness facility, a rowing machine or stationary bike with moving arms are both excellent options. Bodyweight exercises are an excellent option for exercising at home. For a warm-up, start by lying on the floor in a face-up position and either do 15-20 hip bridges followed by hip circles, 15 in each direction, as a way to prepare your body for more activity.
1. Strength training
Strength training can help reduce arthritis-related discomfort. This is where using weightlifting machines can be an excellent resource. The machine sets the range of motion, your muscles apply the force to move the weights, and follow the path established by the machine. Circuit strength training with machines can not only build stronger muscles, but it can help burn calories for losing weight, which helps reduce pressure on sore joints. If you are exercising at home, bodyweight exercises can help strengthen muscles while burning calories, allowing you to improve your fitness while reducing arthritis-related discomfort.
2. Walking or running
Depending on the joints where you experience arthritis, activities like walking or running could cause pain when performed on a hard surface like concrete. Grass, sand, rubber track, treadmill, or elliptical runner can all reduce the impact forces created when your foot strikes the ground. In the case of a treadmill or elliptical runner, using a machine allows you to move at a consistent speed, which could be more comfortable than starting and stopping when using an outdoor path with stop lights or traffic that impedes your ability to maintain a consistent pace.
3. Water exercise
Exercising in the water, whether swimming laps, taking an aqua exercise class, or just playing with family members, can be a very effective strategy if you’re living with arthritis. Moving in water requires muscles to work harder to push against the resistance created by the water. Moreover, the water helps support your body weight, so not as much pressure is placed on the joints as you move around. If you have access to a pool this can be a great option for burning calories and developing strength.
4. Focus on what you can do
When living with arthritis, it’s important to focus on what your body allows you to do. Find activities that allow you to move with minimal discomfort, and while there may be a little pain in the beginning, once your body warms up and starts releasing the neurotransmitters, it would allow you to enjoy being active with your friends and family.