Exercise has been shown to help ease the pain of arthritis. But it can be a vicious cycle. Fear of pain can stop you from exercising and so you avoid doing something that, ultimately, would benefit you. So, how do you break the cycle?
The good news is that, even if initially you feel pain, it should start to subside within a few minutes as you exercise. If it doesn’t, you may need to take things a little more slowly and build up gradually.
How exercise benefits joints
Exercise is beneficial because it nourishes cartilage in the joints and helps to keep them more lubricated. Joints that are inactive can become stiff, malnourished and dry. By contrast, regular exercise helps to reduce pain, restore function and improve mobility.
Best exercises for arthritis sufferers
There are some types of exercise that are particularly good for people with arthritis, such as:
- Swimming or Aqua aerobics – In March 2917 the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation published a study which found that 16 weeks of water-based exercises in women with Rheumatoid Arthritis reduced joint pain.
- Yoga and Tai Chi – Improves body awareness, co-ordination and balance.
- Walking – It is easy and free and you can do it anywhere.
- Pilates – A study published in November 2013 in Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation found a reduction in joint point among children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis who took part in Pilates.
- Weight training – Start slowly and build up. A study in April 2017 in Musculoskeletal Care found that a six week programme of resistance training improved outcomes for people with arthritis.
You should aim to do little and often – a minimum of 10 minutes a day or 30 minutes five days a week. Start by warming up your joints with some simple stretches.
This is particularly important if you haven’t exercised for a while. Then build up slowly with some low impact activities.
It can be helpful to incorporate everyday activities in your exercise routine. Walking the dog, doing the shopping, or mowing the lawn can all help to keep your joints active and reduce pain.
Why not try walking rather than always taking the car? Or getting off the bus one stop earlier and having a gentle walk home?
There are some things to bear in mind whenever you exercise, but particularly if you have arthritis:
- Moderate exercise is good for you as it improves your overall fitness, keeps your joints lubricated and prevents the progression of arthritis.
- Warm up by gently bending and stretching your joints. Go only as far as is comfortable. Over time you should develop a wider range of movement.
- Weight training under supervision of a qualified fitness expert can help you to protect and strengthen your joints as well as building muscle.
- Low impact exercises – walking, cycling, swimming – helps to manage the pain of arthritis as well as improving cardiovascular health.
- Start slowly and build up gradually. The pain of arthritis can make people reluctant to exercise but it is beneficial providing you don’t push yourself too hard and fast.