Regular, gentle exercise can have many benefits for people with arthritis. It can:
- Facilitate joint nourishment
- Ease pain and joint stiffness
- improve flexibility
- Build muscular strength and improve balance
- Reduce joint deformity and improve posture
- Reduce the effects of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) by maintaining bone density
- Improve overall health and fitness
- Lower stress levels
- Maintain a healthy body weightThese are just some of the reasons why you should consider exercising to help with your arthritis.
Different Types of Exercise
If you have arthritis you need to choose the type of exercise you do carefully.
There are three major types of exercise. Each plays a role in maintaining or improving health and fitness, and reducing arthritis related disability and pain.
Flexibility or Stretching
Daily flexibility exercises help to maintain and even improve range of motion and reduce the chance of injury. Any type of stretching should be done slowly, gently, and at a very low intensity. It is important to only stretch to the point of feeling tension, never to the point of pain. Improving flexibility not only reduces the pain associated with arthritis, but it also improves the individual’s ability to perform daily activities.
Muscle Conditioning (strength training)
These are more vigorous than flexibility exercises and are usually done no more than every other day. They are designed to ask the muscle to work a bit harder than usual. This extra workload may come from lifting the weight of the arm, leg or trunk against gravity, or using weights, elastic bands or weight machines for more resistance. Muscles adapt to the new demands by getting stronger and/or becoming capable of working longer to decrease pain in the joint.
Cardiorespiratory or Aerobic Conditioning
These include activities that use the large muscles of the body in rhythmic and repetitive movements. Aerobic exercise improves heart, lung and muscle function. It is also the kind of exercise that has benefits for weight control, mood and general health. Examples of aerobic exercise are:
- low impact aerobic dance
- aquatic exercise
- bicyclingExercising on equipment such as:
- rowing machines
- Nordic track
- elliptical trainersCurrent recommendations for regular aerobic activity are for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week. Important news for persons with arthritis is that this can be accumulated in three 10-minute periods of activity over the course of the day for the same health benefits as one continuous 30-minute session.
Many different types of exercise are suitable for people with arthritis, particularly exercises that are low impact or non load bearing, including:
- Warm water exercise
- Chair exercises
- Low impact aerobics
- Tai Chi
General Cautions and Suggestions
Your doctor, health or fitness professional can advise you in detail, but general suggestions on safe exercising include:
- See your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you have had a joint replaced, find out from your surgeon or physiotherapist which movements you should limit or avoid.
- Don’t exercise a painful, inflamed or hot joint. You can move the joint gently through its range of movement several times to help reduce stiffness and improve circulation.
- Start gently and increase the intensity of your exercise program gradually over weeks or months.
- Warm up thoroughly beforehand. Cool down after exercise with gentle, sustained stretches.
- Pay attention to good technique and try to move smoothly. Don’t force a joint beyond a comfortable range of motion.
- If your joint feels particularly painful afterwards (for longer than two hours after an exercise session), reduce the intensity of your next exercise session.
- If an activity causes you pain or increases your pain beyond what is normal then stop and refrain from doing this activity.