If you have arthritis and live with painful joints, then the natural temptation is to revert to being still, worried that moving those joints will bring you more pain.
In fact, if you have arthritis it becomes more important than ever to develop a regular exercise routine and keep moving as much as possible. While there may be some initial discomfort, the longer term effects of regular exercise are highly beneficial, both in reducing pain and maintaining mobility. Exercise is the best medicine you can prescribe for yourself!
Obviously, you shouldn’t launch into a demanding exercise regime from a standing start – instead build up slowly, starting small and adding a little more each day. You will also find out what type of exercise works best for you, what brings the most benefit and is most suitable for your condition.
Before starting on any exercise regime, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or other health professional. They may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist who will help you develop an exercise routine specifically tailored to you and your needs. If a particular exercise gives you sharp pain, especially in a joint, stop doing it and speak to a health professional before trying it again.
They might also know of exercise classes in your area specifically for people with arthritis or other mobility issues. Some specialise in exercises you can do while sitting in a chair – sometimes called “chairobics” – which are particularly suited to people who have problems with balance.
If you are not the type to join a class, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home, and the benefits of regular exercise for people with arthritis are enormous. They include a better range of movement and joint mobility, better pain management, stronger bones and increased muscle strength, improved balance and co-ordination, better breathing and increased energy levels.
Regular exercise will also help with weight control, which is also very beneficial for people with arthritis. Carrying less weight puts less stress and strain on inflamed and painful joints. Exercising during the day can also help you sleep better at night, without the need for pills, and reduce stress and anxiety.
The NHS recommends a minimum of 30 minutes’ moderate exercise at least five days a week for adults, but if that sounds too much to start with, you don’t have to do it all at once. Try breaking it down into blocks of five or ten minutes, building up gradually as it becomes easier. It’s a good idea to build specific time for exercise into your daily routine, so you don’t forget. While it might seem hard at first, it will get easier and can even become fun as you start to reap the rewards.
Some types of arthritis are prone to ‘flare-ups’, lasting anything from a few days to a few weeks. If this happens to you, you can rein back your exercise routine, but it is important to keep going with gentle muscle-strengthening exercises.
There are three main types of exercise for people with arthritis. Firstly, ‘range of movement’ exercises help keep you supple and flexible and keep your joints moving. They should be done twice a day, gradually building up the number of repetitions. Secondly, ‘strengthening’ exercises preserve and build up your muscle strength, which in turn puts less strain on arthritic joints and keeps them more stable.
Thirdly, aerobic exercises gently increase your heart rate, helping to build stamina, improve blood flow, strengthen bones, control weight, improve sleep and even reduce depression. Again, they key here is a little and often, building up gradually as you feel able. Some of the best types of aerobic exercise for people with arthritis are walking, cycling, swimming and doing the housework or gardening.
Some exercise regimes recommend using the stairs to build strength and stamina, but if you have problems with mobility, muscle strength, balance or co-ordination, this is a very bad idea. Having a fall is never a good thing, but having a fall on the stairs could be catastrophic.
If you feel unsafe on the stairs, or using them leaves you breathless and tired out, it is far better to have an Acorn Stairlift installed and use it for both safety and comfort. You can then devote the energy that you save to more structured and beneficial exercising in a safe environment.
For more help, support and advice about living with arthritis, including the benefits of exercise, visit the Arthritis Care website by clicking here, or call its free helpline on 0808 800 4050.