Motion Approved: How Exercise Provides Arthritic Relief

Arthritis can certainly take its toll on your emotional wellbeing and day-to-day life, but the real blow is dealt to your fitness levels. With stiff and achy joints, just getting out of bed in the morning can be a real challenge, let alone doing some exercise. Surely, it’s just better for your joint wellness to throw in the towel, right? Wrong. Certified Personal Trainer Jen Mueller argues that arthritic problems actually give you a reason to get up and get moving. According to Mueller, ‘Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness, and endurance. It also helps with weight reduction and contributes to an improved sense of wellbeing.’ But how do you start a programme that helps – rather than hurts – your arthritic pain?


There are three types of exercise that best deal with arthritis, so your programme needs to include a balance of the following:


  • Range-of-motion exercises. Movements such as stretching help your joints to move normally, relieve stiffness, and maintain or increase your flexibility. You should include range-of-motion exercises at least every other day.
  • Strengthening exercises. In order to keep or increase your muscle strength, and support and protect your joints, you need to perform strengthening exercises such as weight training, resistance exercises, nautilus and body weight exercises. Unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints, you should include strengthening exercises every other day.
  • Aerobic or Endurance exercises. Bicycle riding, walking, swimming and using cardio gym machines helps to improve your heart health, control your weight, enhance your body’s overall functioning and relieve pressure on and inflammation in your joints. Include 20 – 30 minutes of aerobic exercises three times per week unless you have severe pain or swelling in your joints.


So, how do you begin? Mueller recommends, ‘Begin with easy, range-of-motion exercises and low-impact aerobics. As you become more comfortable with a low-level program, it is possible to progress to more advanced exercises. For example, you might start with water exercise (easiest on the joints) and progress to walking and/or biking or sports. Check with your doctor to learn which sports and exercises would be safe for you to try.’ However, when you are exercising, there are certain things you need to remember in order to workout safely and effectively:


1. Move daily: To prevent stiffness and loss of joint movement, you should move your joints daily. ‘Exercises should be done on a regular basis,’ says Mueller. ‘You should try to do them on good days and bad days, although you may have to modify the programme if you are having more pain than usual.’


2. Go gently: Mueller asserts, ‘An inflamed joint should only be moved gently through its range of motion. It is important to listen to your body and not overdo it. If an exercise hurts, stop! Pain (other than normal arthritis discomfort) is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. If you get tired, rest! Wait a few minutes, then continue when you are ready.’ Most experts will agree that if your pain persists for more than one hour after exercise, you are doing too much.


3. Start right: ‘Always begin a session with some slow warm-up exercises to reduce stress on the joints,’ Mueller advises. ‘You should attempt to achieve a full range of motion by moving until you feel a slight stretch. Do not force the motion, going only as far as you feel comfortable.’  Remember to move at your own pace, and perform each exercise in a slow and steady motion.

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