According to the CDC, arthritis is the most common disability among adults in the USA. And even though multiple studies show that exercise is the best way to decrease pain and increase range of motion - one third of the people in the United States with arthritis don't exercise.
I have arthritis and at times in my life, I've been part of that one third. I was scared that exercise would cause my pain to worsen because, quite frankly, sometimes it did. However, I have adapted my program so I'm able to workout without my pain getting worse. Now I have less pain and more range of motion because I workout on a regular basis.
Here are 5 ways that can help you through the obstacles of exercising with arthritis.
1. Start out slow
With any exercise program, it is a good idea to start out with slow easy movements.
It's important to gradually increase the amount of exercise you do; otherwise, you can make joint pain worse. (Check out arthritis.org, which has many resources, including videos, to help you start an exercise program.)
I started out really slowly because my arthritis pain became worse even with low impact exercises. I have an elliptical machine and when I first started, and I could only do 5 minutes. If my pain did not worsen, I would add another minute the next day. Now it’s over a year later and I can do high intensity workouts on my elliptical machine without my pain getting worse.
2. Listen to your body
It is extremely important to listen to what your body is telling you and to trust your instincts. If you find that an exercise is making your arthritis pain worse, or you become more stiff, take a step back. I found that it's okay to just do some activity rather than too much because it will set you back. Overdoing it can cause more harm than good.
If you recognize that certain movements cause pain, modify them or just skip them. For example if you are doing a workout that involves jumping jacks, but you know that the high impact will hurt your joints, modify the workout by just kicking one foot to the side with the opposite arm and then switch.
Bottom line-be in touch with your body and make the necessary adjustments.
3. Use a pedometer
Walking is one of the best exercise programs for people with arthritis. It's low impact and easy to get started. Try using a pedometer (device or app) to make walking more fun. For me, Argus is my favorite. I like it because it is so accurate and I enjoy the challenges on the app. The other nice thing about the Argus app is that it charts your steps so you can see your progress over the course of time.
4. Stretch every day
Stretching is vital for people with arthritis, but sometimes stretching is overlooked. Stretching is like greasing your joints. Think of hinges of a door that are all dried out. They creak and sometimes can't open. If you oil the hinges, then the door can work again. Stretching also increases flexibility and relieve pain.
Many times stretching has made my pain get better immediately. Some of my favorite stretches for relieving pain are sitting on the floor and stretching my hands to my toes-this stretch helps my back feel much better. I also like to bend one leg and cross it over the other leg and put my opposite elbow on my bent knee. This helps my spine feel much better. Another stretch that helps me is to put my leg on the kitchen counter and sink my pelvis lower. For my upper body I stretch my arm across my body and hold it with my other hand. Stretching throughout the day helps me to continue on when pain or stiffness has slowed me down.
5. Strength train at a level that works for you.
Strength training and weightlifting might sound intimidating, but it can be incorporated easily. One idea from arthritis.org is to start with everyday objects such as soup cans and then as this becomes too easy and graduate to small weights. I started this way. I still only do about 5 to 10 lb weights as anymore has been too much. It is better to do small weights or bodyweight exercises than nothing.
Strength training is really important because the muscle becomes stronger which, in turn, protects the joints and reduces pain. One study found that people with knee arthritis who participated in a strength training program for four months decreased their pain by 43%. It is easy to forget to do strength training, but it has so many benefits. Don't leave it out of your exercise program.
Exercising with arthritis can be tricky, but the effort is worth it.Cindy lives in Michigan with her husband and three children. Her children keep her very active. She is a homemaker and enjoys making healthy meals at home for her family. One of her favorite activities is to exercise. She loves reading about health topics and writing on her blog. Cindy takes courses about health through Coursera and ITunes University.
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