Expert fitness tips for managing and improving arthritis pain.
Recently diagnosed with arthritis or struggling with the long-term health condition and starting to lose hope? While working up a sweat may not be high on your list of priorities right now, a number of studies suggest that regular exercise is beneficial for arthritis sufferers. Keeping active can help to improve both the symptoms of arthritis as well as your general wellbeing, which can make managing the condition easier.
PT and fitness expert Laura Williams shares her expert tips on exercising with arthritis so you can keep fit and improve your symptoms:
The benefits of exercising with arthritis
There are a number of proven health benefits associated with maintaining an active life post arthritis diagnosis:
• Greater muscle strength
Strengthening the muscles which surround and support your joints will help to increase strength, range of motion and flexibility. Stronger, more flexible muscles means your joints don’t have to work as hard.
• Increased bone strength
Weight bearing exercise and exercise which strengthens muscles helps to build and maintain strong bones will help to minimise wear and tear on your joints.
• Weight management
Exercise is a great way to maintain a healthy weight which can ease pressure on your joints. A Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 25 is thought to increase your chances of developing arthritis. Research has found that every pound of weight gain significantly impacts on your knees, while gaining weight around the abdomen in particular will place additional strain on your lower back.
The 3 best exercises for arthritis
To get the most out of your routine and enable you to effectively manage your arthritis, focus on three main areas of fitness:
• Strength work for arthritis
Strengthening exercise such as training with weights or exercises where you use your own body weight as resistance, such as Pilates and yoga, can benefit those suffering with arthritis. You should aim to build up slowly and avoid working through joint pain – return to the exercise when you feel your muscles are stronger if you experience pain. If press ups hurt your wrists, try pec flies with household items such as large bottles of water and then revisit your press ups when chest muscles are stronger.
If lunges hurt your knees, try exercises to strengthen the legs such as wall sits or chair squats and then try the lunge again once your lower body has gained some strength.
And don’t forget incidental exercise like stair-climbing, gardening and housework. Squatting down to weed or re-pot plants, hovering with knees slightly bent while you hoover and taking the stairs two at a time will all help to keep joints moving and muscles strong.
• Aerobic exercise for arthritis
Aerobic exercise helps you maintain a strong cardiorespiratory system and it also burns lots of calories – worth bearing in mind if you’re looking to lose or maintain weight.
Walking is a great exercise for bones, heart and waistline, especially if you vary the intensity at which you’re walking. If you feel the need for a little extra challenge, switch up your pace – walk at a brisk pace so you’re out of breath for three minutes then return to your moderate pace for two minutes. Adding in hills further enhances the workout and gives your leg muscles an added challenge too.
In the gym, the cross trainer and bike are good, low impact ways to maintain fitness while water-based exercise such as swimming and water aerobics enables you to get a good workout while supporting joints and bones.
• Stretching exercises for arthritis
Ensuring you have good flexibility is important for maintaining a good range of motion in your joints. Stretching at the end of a workout is a must while a good warm up prior to holding stretches at the start of your exercise session is advisable.
Yoga is a good way to improve flexibility as it incorporates a variety of stretches as well as helping you to establish good sitting and standing postures.
Exercising with arthritis dos and don’ts
✔️ Don’t rush into any new activity. If you’ve previously been inactive start out with walking, cycling and some light body weight exercises.
✔️ Avoid any exercise that aggravates your arthritis. High impact exercise, such as jogging or running, may be okay. This all really depends on the severity of your symptoms, how you respond to the activity and what your doctor has advised. Avoid any activity however which causes or aggravates symptoms.
✔️ Vary your routine. Ensure that you vary your activity so you continue to see and feel results. Mix up a swimming session with yoga, a few dumbbell exercises and the odd bike ride to really challenge your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems.
✔️ Prepare and end well. Always make sure you warm up well and stretch after an exercise session. Apply ice to reduce any joint pain or swelling after your workout.
Arthritis exercises to do throughout the day
Try these simple strengthening and stretching exercises as part of your daily routine – you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results!
1. Chair squat
Strengthens leg muscles. Stand in front of a chair before squatting down as if you were sitting back down into your seat. Push hips back as you bend your knees. Just as your bottom is about to touch your chair push back up through your heels. Hold on to the chair or a nearby surface if you find yourself losing balance. Aim for 15-20 squats.
2. Shoulder bridge
Strengthens leg and hip muscles. Lie on your back with legs bent, feet flat on the floor. Lift hips so that your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Remain in this position and squeeze buttocks for a count of five. Return to your starting position. Repeat a total of five times.
3. Hand stretch
This is as simple as clenching your fist, holding for up to 30 seconds before un-clenching and spreading fingers out as wide apart as you can. Hold and repeat.
4. Chest stretch
Stretch your chest muscles out by clasping your hands together and extending your arms back behind you just below shoulder height. Look down at the floor to stretch the neck at the same time. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
5. Hamstring stretch
Keeping hamstrings flexible helps to maintain flexibility in the pelvis, hips and lower back. To stretch easily, rest your left heel on a surface that’s a fraction lower than hip height and push hips back and lower chest to knees. Hold for 20-30 seconds.