Arthritis is a tough condition to live with and can cause significant chronic pain, stiffness and fatigue. Bottom line: It’s not a fun way to go through life. And yet, arthritis doesn’t have to be a life sentence of agony. On the contrary, with a little exercise, you can turn pain off, loosen up those joints and actually live a very mobile lifestyle. If the thought of any sort of physical activity makes you cringe, talk to your doctor about some easy ways to begin some sort of activity level. Exercise could be just what you need to feel a whole lot better.
Two Kinds of Arthritis
Arthritis comes in two general varieties: rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. While the two have a few similar symptomatic characteristics, generally speaking, their causes are altogether different. Osteoarthritis is often associated with a cartilage deficit, tear or erosion around the joint. Rheumatoid, rather, is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself. Perfect examples of rheumatoid arthritis include polymyalgia and fibromyalgia. Arthritis itself is the most common cause of disability in the U.S., affecting millions of adults.
Inflammation in all arthritic conditions represents the main and predominant symptom. Once bodily joints are inflamed, they cause considerable pain, but there are some natural ways you can curb or prevent joint pain and inflammation through some pretty simple methods, namely exercise. Staying active through exercise and fitness could be just what you need to feel better. If you have actively inflamed joints, you do need to rest them, but if your doctor indicates that it is okay for you to exercise, then get out there and start getting active.
Benefits of Staying Active with Arthritis
It’s been proven for decades that those who exercise live a longer life, with or without arthritis, and regular exercise can actually reduce overall pain from arthritis. Exercise can also keep your bones strong, and many arthritis sufferers have thinning bones. Exercise promotes bone strength, and in some cases, builds more strength. And speaking of strength, exercise also maintains muscle strength and actually builds muscle. More muscle around the joints prevents injury and decreases the inflammation associated with arthritis.
Safe and Easy Arthritis Exercises
Some people may argue that exercise is not safe or beneficial for arthritis sufferers. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many safe and easy arthritis exercises, which can provide pain relief and build muscle strength. When your joints are stiff and painful, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. Yet, when you have arthritis, exercising regularly is one of the best ways to take care of yourself and your joints.
Exercise is absolutely safe for most arthritis sufferers, and certain kinds of exercise are proven to be safe for people with arthritis. Staying active is the foundation for staying youthful, preventing disease and most importantly, loosening and lubricating those inflamed and stiff joints. It’s smart to choose the proper exercise if you suffer from arthritis, though. “Easy does it” should be your motto starting out, and try not to do exercises which place undue pressure on your joints. This could do more harm than good, and exacerbate the inflammation and the discomfort.
Here are some forms of exercise those suffering from arthritis may consider:
Aquatic exercises are a great alternative, especially for strength and cardiovascular fitness for arthritis sufferers. Aquatics put no pressure on your joints, and you can do them at your own pace and fitness level. These can include aqua aerobics, pool jogging and swimming. These activities burn calories without placing a heavy burden on the joints. Yoga or gentle stretching is also suggested for those with arthritis. Yoga helps get back some much-needed range of motion, which is vital for your achy joints.
As long as you avoid heavy weight training, strength and resistance exercises are also good for arthritis patients. Weight-bearing exercises are very good for joints, particularly when you use light weights or merely using your body weight. These exercises involve working the muscle against resistance. Resistance training strengthens the muscle and increases the amount of activity you can do pain-free.
Conditioning or Aerobic Exercises
Conditioning exercises, also called aerobic exercises, improve cardiovascular fitness and have other countless benefits associated with your heart, lungs, brain and mobility. These exercises make your heart and blood vessels healthier, prevent disability, and improve mood and well-being. Good conditioning exercises for people with arthritis include low-impact activities like walking, slow-jogging, power walking, bicycling or using an elliptical machine (which is easy on the knee joints). Any of these will get your joints loose and your heart pumping.
Dangerous Arthritic Exercises
Exercises that put undue pressure on your joints should be avoided. These include high-impact activities such as heavy weight lifting and jogging. That’s not to say that you can’t work up to these types of exercises. If you’re interested in doing them, talk with your doctor first to make sure your body is up to these more demanding exercises.
Your physical therapist or rheumatologist can help you create an exercise program that is right for you, identifying what areas you need to work on, choosing the right exercises for you, and advising you on how intense you should exercise. Additionally, there are also community exercise programs designed just for people with arthritis. They are usually group-focused, and provide great conditioning in a pleasant social environment.
Consistent and regular exercise improves functional ability and lets you do more for yourself. This is especially important if you suffer from arthritis and you live alone. Those with arthritis who exercise feel better about themselves and are better able to cope with the condition. As you begin to exercise regularly, you’ll realize the benefits, and you’ll know you’ve taken control of your arthritic condition. Both your joints and your whole body will feel better, and your mobility and improved range-of-motion will allow you to do things you thought you’d never be able to do again.
David Novak is a specialist at consumer technology, health and fitness, and he also owns a PR firm and a consulting company where he and his staff focus on these industries. He is a regular contributing editor for Healthline.