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8 Reasons to Exercise If You Have Arthritis

By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT

More than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. said they had physician-diagnosis arthritis, according to a 2013-2015 survey. And 43.5% of these adults reported that their arthritis limited everyday activities. 

May is Arthritis Awareness Month, and FYZICAL - Forest Grove wants you to think of exercise as medicine for managing your arthritic joints.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a blanket term for joint pain or joint disease with more than 100 types, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia.

The most common is osteoarthritis (OA), the wearing down of the cartilage at the ends of bones. OA could affect any joint, but hands, spine, knees, and hips are most commonly affected. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is another form of arthritis. Unlike the “wear and tear” of OA, the body’s immune system is attacking itself with RA, causing inflammation and affecting the joints, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. 

No matter the type of arthritis, exercise could be a valuable way to maintain a healthy active life. Some conditions may need extra attention or care, so check with your physician to see if exercising is safe for you.

Benefits of Exercise

1. Reduces pain 

Exercise can reduce your pain, but you may need to start small and build up gradually. A physical therapist can guide you on this. 

2. Maintains or reduces body weight

With less weight, the joints of your lower body will have less stress placed on them.

3. Boosts energy

Dealing with painful joints can be tiring. A regular exercise program can help improve your energy.

4. Relieves stress, improves mood, and decreases anxiety 

Exercise has even been used to reduce mild depression. One of the body’s hormones called endorphins is released when you exercise creating a feeling of euphoria.

5. Strengthens bones and muscles

Building stronger bones help to prevent or manage osteoporosis.

6. Promotes better sleep 

Benefits include falling asleep easier and sleeping more deeply. 

7. Reduces the risk of other health conditions

Diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease can also benefit from exercise.

8. Maintains or improves flexibility around joints

Natural lubricants are released in the joint when you move, so “Motion is Lotion.”

Getting Moving

Try lower impact aerobic exercises like walking, water exercise, biking, or dancing instead of higher impact ones like running, jumping jacks, basketball, or tennis. 

The American Heart Association suggests getting at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. 

But we get it. It’s not realistic for everyone, particularly those with painful joints. Try starting with 5 minutes of activity per day and adding time gradually every week. 

Incorporate strength training into your routine 2 days per week. Use your own body weight as resistance or lift weights.

Balance exercises are important to include no matter your age or abilities. Tai chi has been proven to improve balance and lower body strength. 

Flexibility exercises or stretches keep muscles limber to help you move. Gentle stretches work best when your muscles and joints are already warmed up, so consider adding them after a walk or bike ride.

Listen To Your Body

Start small and build up gradually. 

Consider tracking your pain in a journal or on a calendar. Note your activity and rate your pain on a 0 to 10 scale (10 is the worst). 

Pay attention to what your joints can tolerate and set your own pace.

Work with a certified trainer or physical therapist if exercise is new for you.

To keep learning about exercise with rheumatoid arthritis, check out this article.

Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist.

Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

References:

Barbour KE, Helmick CG, Boring M, Brady TJ. Vital Signs: Prevalence of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation — United States, 2013–2015. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2017;66:246–253.

Kelley GA, Kelley KS, Hootman JM, Jones DL. Effects of community-deliverable exercise on pain and physical function in adults with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases: a meta-analysis. Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2011 Jan;63(1):79-93.

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