It’s been well established that those who exercise tend to live longer, are happier and healthier than those who do not regularly exercise. Yet, Arthritis is one of the most common reasons why people give up exercising and become more sedentary.
Giving up exercise will have a negative knock-on effect on their health and wellbeing in the longer term.
Not only will they become more susceptible to the ‘lifestyle’ diseases of today – Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers. They are also missing a trick for managing and living with the pain associated with Arthritis.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is a group of over 100 conditions. Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis being two of the most common types. In general terms, Arthritis is the inflammation of the joints that can lead to pain, swelling, stiffness and potential loss of function.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune condition. It is distinguished from other forms by displaying symptoms on both sides of the body. For example by having pain in both knees or elbows.
Osteoarthritis usually occurs with advancing age. It is inflammation of the joint. This is brought about through wear and tear of the cartilage that sits at the end of the bones and prevents the bone from rubbing together in the joint capsule.
Why exercise with Arthritis?
It seems counter-intuitive for those with Arthritis to exercise, given that exercise will require the use of the very joints that may be painful in the first place. However, long term research studies show exercise is beneficial for most types of Arthritis, including both Rheumatoid and Osteoarthritis.
Studies conducted on Rheumatoid Arthritis show that medium-intensity weight-bearing exercise helps prevent bone loss and small joint damage, often associated with this auto-immune condition, with no increase in pain or advancing of the disease.
The news is even better for those with Osteoarthritis. Research confirms that exercise programmes combining strengthening and cardiovascular work reduce symptoms and pain. Not only that, they improve joint range of motion and function. They also help control weight a big factor for reducing the load on joints. Lastly, they improve balance and coordination as well as developing a greater ability to tolerate pain.
For those at risk of developing Osteoarthritis in the knees, regular exercise can improve cartilage health. In addition, it also increases the strength of the quadriceps (thigh) muscles, which both help reduce this risk considerably.
What exercise should I do?
The rule of thumb here is ‘any exercise is good’. However, take care to ensure the intensity is correct. It is prudent to include the 3 major components of exercise (i.e. flexibility/mobility, strength, and cardiovascular fitness) in any exercise plan.
Let’s look at the benefits of each of these components:
The goal of this type of work is to improve/maintain joint range of motion (ROM). This is done by stretching individual muscles and/or by mobilising a joint. Taking that joint through its ROM and trying to improve it. It is low impact work that should be done whenever you exercise but can be included daily. This will help improve posture, reduce pain and decrease the risk of developing injuries in the future.
By increasing strength in the muscles around a joint, you improve support and subsequently reduce the stress going through that joint. If this joint is experiencing Arthritic pain, strength work can contribute to reduced pain there.
In addition, it can improve function and reduced bone loss. Strength work helps to increase bone density. A potential reduction in the need for anti-inflammatory medications associated with Arthritis. As always, it’s important that any strength programme incorporates a whole-body approach. A full-body programme will prevent imbalances (and potential injuries) from occurring later. Those new to strength training need to build up progressively to reduce the risk of causing more pain.
This type of exercise is usually one of the easiest to do. Daily activities such as walking, gardening and mowing the lawn as well as slightly more intense forms such as swimming, cycling or dancing.
Cardiovascular (CV) training increases energy levels, improves mood and sleep. It also helps control weight and assists in keeping the joint moving and ‘lubricated’ which aids to reduce pain. Some form of CV work should be done every day. Whether that is to go for a bike ride or walk the dog, for the best results and to see longer-term improvements in heart, lung, and muscle function.
When and where should I exercise?
When beginning an exercise routine it’s important to find one that works for you. If you feel better in the afternoon or evening, this should be the time you schedule it to help reduce the ‘barriers’ that get in the way of exercise.
However, you may find exercising earlier actually makes you feel better. So, while you don’t necessarily feel like exercising, to begin with, the knowledge you feel better afterward will help to motivate you.
It’s also imperative to get advice on the right type of exercises for you to perform. It's impossible for this article to cover the ‘best’ exercises for those suffering from Arthritis. Every case is different. What one person can do, another may find impossible.
Instead, it’s best to let an experienced coach guide you through all the options. Find exercises that ‘fit’ you best but can also help progress you to more challenging exercises in the future.
At W10 we tailor our fitness programmes to the individual. If somebody presents with a bad back one day, we adjust the programme to work around that pain while still achieving a great workout.
We also, as a matter of course, include elements of flexibility/mobility, strength work and cardiovascular training in every session to ensure all our clients, not just those living with Arthritis, benefit from the many advantages of these forms of exercise.
The holistic approach
If you are living with Arthritis rest assured, we can tailor your programme to suit your needs. In turn, help decrease your daily symptoms. On top of this, we offer advice on dietary and lifestyle factors aiding to lessen symptoms by reducing inflammation in the body. This holistic approach is the best way of optimising your health and supporting you to live a happy and pain-free life. Sign up to a 30-day trial and try us out for yourself.