Beating Arthritis and Keeping Active

Alex Dance's picture

When our body is in tip-top shape it’s easy for us to exercise. It’s something we enjoy doing. But when we encounter actual physical barriers in our movements, as in the case of arthritis, exercising to keep fit and lose weight can become much harder.

One of the most common forms of this is arthritis. While it is largely thought of as an elderly person's problem, arthritis can strike much younger. Anyone who has dealt with the condition will know just how hard even the simplest activity becomes.

Below are 10 tips for beating arthritis and making sure you keep active and healthy at all stages of life.

1. Warm up

Completing a thorough pre-routine warm-up prior to your workout will make your exercise session much less painful and much more enjoyable. Warming up improves the flexibility of your muscles and the connective tissues that support your joints—the better they move, the less stiffness you’ll experience. A light five-minute walk or bike ride will get you started on the right foot.

2. Hit the pool

Hydrotherapy (or water exercise) can be very beneficial for individuals with sore joints—the buoyancy of the water reduces the stress on those joints while the resistance from the water provides a challenging workout. Research published in Arthritis Care and Research found that two 30-minute pool sessions per week for four weeks led to significant reductions in joint tenderness, improved range of motion in the knee, and improved emotional and psychological well-being in individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

3. Avoid morning exercise

Morning is one of the most convenient times to exercise—put in your time, have a shower, and you’re done for the day. However, morning is also the time when many arthritis sufferers experience the most joint stiffness, which means exercise may be less than comfortable. If you do suffer from significant morning stiffness, give your body a chance to limber up before breaking a sweat.

4. Mix it up

Doing the same workout every day will not only leave you bored stiff, but it can also exacerbate joint pain. Continuously changing up your workout, will ensure muscle balance and joint health throughout your body and minimize excessive stress on any one body part.

5. Exercise caution

While most types of exercise are completely safe for those with arthritis or sore joints, there are some activities you’d be better avoiding. The American College of Sports Medicine warns against exercise that includes vigorous, highly repetitive exercise with unstable joints (think jogging with bad knees) as well as overstretching and hypermobility—the more mobile a joint, the less stable it is.

6. Adjust as necessary

Exercise is not a one-size-fits-all activity. While many people may be able to complete exercises as prescribed, others may find it difficult. If a movement or activity causes you discomfort, feel free to change it up to fit your needs. For example, if you find squatting to parallel to be too much for your knees or hips, reduce the range of motion so that you’re only completing a partial squat—you’re still working the muscles without the added stress on the joint.

7. Make stretching a priority

Of all the modalities of exercise, flexibility training is often the one that’s most underappreciated and is sometimes even overlooked. As an arthritis sufferer, you need to make it a priority. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends performing flexibility exercises one to two times daily! That may seem like a lot of stretching, but in order to keep your joints responsive and improve your range of motion, it’s necessary. Always engage in some type of warm-up prior to stretching, and only move as far as you comfortably can without causing pain.

8. Don’t ignore the pain

Although exercise is beneficial in pain management of arthritis, take a break if you’re experiencing a flare-up. Forcing movement in an overly inflamed joint will only make matters worse just as ignoring any pain is not good in the long run.

9. Progress gradually

Begin each workout slowly to give your body ample time to respond and adjust. It takes time for your joints to prepare for strenuous activity, even if it’s just a walk around the block. Avoid rushing through your workout to minimize joint discomfort.

10. Give your joints a little TLC

If you have a hard time getting your joints to quit complaining despite an adequate warm-up, try a heat treatment prior to your workout. The heat can help relax the muscles surrounding your joints and minimize any pain you may be experiencing. Once you’ve completed your workout, and your stretches, apply ice to minimize inflammation and reduce swelling of the joint.

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