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Exercise and Your Arthritis; What Can Exercise Do for Me?

Article Provided by the Arthritis FoundationFor many years, it was thought that people with arthritis should not exercise because it would damage their joints. Now doctors and therapists know that people with arthritis can improve their health and fitness through exercise without hurting their joints.If you have arthritis or a related condition, exercise is especially important. Exercise is beneficial because it can help:keep your joints moving; keep the muscles around your joints strong; keep bone and cartilage tissue strong and healthy; improve your ability to do daily activities; improve your overall health and fitness by:giving you more energy helping you sleep better controlling your weight making your heart stronger decreasing depression improving your self-esteem and sense of well-being. Along with medicine, rest and other parts of your treatment program, regular exercise can help keep your joints in working order so you can continue your daily activities. It also may help prevent further joint damage.What Could Happen if I Don’t Exercise? If your joints hurt, you may not feel like exercising. However, if you don’t exercise, your joints can become even more stiff and painful. Exercise is beneficial because it keeps your muscles, bones and joints healthy.Because you have arthritis, it is important to keep your muscles as strong as possible. The stronger the muscles and tissue are around your joints, the better they will be able to support and protect those joints – even those that are weak and damaged from arthritis. If you don’t exercise, your muscles become smaller and weaker, and your bones can become more brittle and prone to fracture.Many people with arthritis keep painful joints in a bent position because at first it’s more comfortable. But if your joints stay in one position for too long (without movement), you may lose your ability to straighten them. Exercise helps keep your joints as flexible as possible, allowing you to continue to do your daily tasks as independently as possible.Exercise can change your mood. If you’re in pain, you may feel depressed. If you feel depressed, you may not feel like moving or exercising. But without exercise, you may feel more pain and depression. Research has shown that participating in a regular exercise program is a great way to feel better and move more comfortably.How Do I Know What’s Best?An exercise program can be developed for every individual. The program that’s best for you will depend on the type of arthritis you have, which joints are affected and the severity of involvement. Your program also may vary depending on how active the arthritis is. Your physician and a physical therapist or rehabilitation specialist can help determine the best exercise program for you.Even if your type of arthritis has caused deformities of the feet and knees, you still can enjoy exercise. Your physician and physical therapist can develop a program that will allow you to exercise your leg muscles without aggravating the joints. Water exercise, weight lifting or riding a stationary cycle are possible ways to exercise in this situation.Are There Any Risks in Exercising?The most common risk of exercise is aggravating your arthritis by working your joints or muscles too much. This can happen if you exercise too long or too hard, especially when you are beginning your exercise program. The Main Types of ExercisePeople with arthritis often benefit from a balanced exercise program including different types of exercise. Three main types of exercise that should be included in your exercise program are range-of-motion, strengthening and endurance exercises.Range-of-motion exercises reduce stiffness and help keep your joints flexible – something that can help you carry out your activities of daily living. The "range of motion" is the normal amount your joints can be moved in certain directions. Strengthening exercises help maintain or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help keep your joints stable and more comfortable. Two common types of strengthening exercises for people with arthritis are isometric exercises, in which you tighten muscles but don’t move joints, and isotonic exercises, which move the joints to strengthen muscles.Endurance exercises strengthen your heart. They make your lungs more efficient and give you more stamina so that you can work longer without tiring as quickly. Endurance exercises also help you sleep better, control your weight and improve your overall sense of well-being. Some of the most beneficial endurance exercises for people with arthritis are walking, water exercise and riding a stationary bicycle.Talk to your health-care team before beginning any type of exercise program.If you haven’t been exercising on a regular basis or have pain, stiffness or weakness that interrupts your daily activities, start your exercise program with flexibility and strengthening exercises only.Once you feel comfortable doing these exercises, gradually include endurance exercises as well. You can begin by exercising five minutes, three times a day, to get a total of 15 minutes for that day. Over a period of time, try extending the endurance part of your exercise program to get a total of 30 minutes for the day, most days of the week.Tips for Better ExerciseBefore Exercise:Apply heat or ice treatments to the area you will be exercising. Heat relaxes your joints and muscles and helps relieve pain. Cold also reduces pain and swelling for some people. Be sure to apply the heat or cold correctly. Heat treatments should feel soothing and comfortable, not hot. Apply heat for about 20 minutes. Use cold for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. For more advice on proper use of heat or cold, contact your local Arthritis Foundation for a copy of the booklet Managing Your Pain.Warm up. Do gentle range-of-motion and strengthening exercises at least 10 to 15 minutes before more vigorous endurance-type exercise. Begin your activity at a slow pace and gradually work to a faster pace. Taking the time to warm up before exercising will help you prevent injuries.Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. Your clothes should be loose and comfortable for easy movement. Layering your clothes will help you adapt to changes in temperature and activity level. Your shoes should provide good support, and the soles should be made from non-slip, shock-absorbent material. Wearing shock-absorbent insoles also can make your exercise more comfortable.During Exercise:Don’t hurry. Exercise at a comfortable, steady pace that allows you to speak to someone without running out of breath. Exercising at this pace gives your muscles time to relax between each repetition. Breathe while you exercise. Don’t hold your breath. Exhale as you do the exercise, and inhale as you relax between repetitions. Counting out loud during the exercise will help you breathe deeply and regularly.Be alert for "warning signs." Stop exercising right away if you have chest tightness or severe shortness of breath or feel dizzy, faint or sick to your stomach. If these symptoms occur, contact your doctor immediately. If you develop muscle pain or a cramp, gently rub and stretch the muscle. When the pain is gone, continue exercising with slow, easy movements. You may need to change position or the way you are doing the exercise. A good general rule is to stop exercising if you start having sharp pain or more pain than usual. Pain is your warning signal that something is wrong.After Exercise:Cool down for five to 10 minutes. This helps you cool off, lets your heart slow down and helps your muscles relax. To cool down, simply do your exercise activity at a slower pace, such as walking slowly. Also try gentle stretching to avoid stiff or sore muscles the next day.

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