Is It Safe Exercising with Arthritis?
Arthritis refers to the general umbrella term for a group of over 100 different conditions that all have the common factor of affecting the joints in our bones and/or the tissues around the joints. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, followed up by rheumatoid arthritis and gout. There are a number of factors that combine to result in arthritis, genetic factors, lifestyle, and environment. And while people of any age can have arthritis, one of the top risk factors is age.
Treatment for arthritis is always individualized to the needs and concerns of each patient, and may include medications, physical therapy, and sometimes surgery. Today, experts will also tell us that exercise is one of the best ways to manage your arthritis.
For some older adults, they may be able to recall the days when people with arthritis were advised to take things easy, and spend most of their time resting their joints. What we know today, however, is that “sit all day” is terrible, terrible advice to give to a patient with arthritis. Multiple studies have all consistently shown that inactivity not only raises the risk of developing arthritis, but it also will lead to increased and accelerated joint damage and increased pain for those already suffering from arthritis. The Arthritis Foundation itself calls exercise the most effective non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement.
Exercise helps to keep the joints lubricated and strengthens the muscles around the joints that support them and help them to move. It reduces bodily inflammation, which helps to prevent the breakdown of cartilage in the joints as well. Exercise also helps seniors in maintaining a healthy body weight, which is one of the best things for reducing the amount of stress on your joints.
While the standard guideline for older adults is to get at least 150 minutes per week of exercise, studies have also shown that less is good too. Just one hour a week of brisk walking can help to stave off disability in older adults with arthritis pain.
Another study showed that exercise doesn’t always have to be vigorous, or even moderate. Lighter activities that move your body around are also beneficial. The more time spent during the day simply moving your body, even when done at a light intensity, can help to reduce disability. For people with health problems or physical limitations who cannot commit to performing high or moderate intensity activity, this gives them a starting point from which to begin to stay independent.
The first step for a joint-friendly exercise program is to get a prescription from your doctor or physical therapist. Some exercises may be unsafe for people with certain types of arthritis, and others may be safe, but can cause discomfort, especially at the beginning. This can make it seem counterintuitive and cause people to give up prematurely, but a trained professional can offer reassurance and create the confidence to stick with it. An exercise plan appropriate for arthritis will likely include several types of low impact, joint-friendly activities.