Arthritis is a debilitating disease characterized by the loss of cartilage between the joints, resulting in pain and stiffness. Whilst extreme exercise can worsen the condition, gentle, low-level movement can reduce stiffness and improve mobility.
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The American College of Rheumatology recommends exercise as a first-line, non-drug strategy to manage arthritis symptoms.
Benefits of exercising with arthritis
Exercising with arthritis has been shown to increase strength, flexibility, and energy levels, in addition to reducing joint pain. Maintaining a healthy weight through exercise also reduces the load placed on the joints.
A well designed physical exercise program for arthritis should aim to improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle mass and reduce adiposity, without exacerbating disease symptoms. Some studies have shown that short bursts of high-intensity exercises can be effective for arthritis patients, but low-moderate intensity exercises are safest.
Types of exercises
Below are four types of exercise that may help to reduce arthritis-related pain and disability.
This includes range-of-motion (ROM) and stretching exercises. These exercises can help to increase flexibility in the joints and muscles, and improve posture. They also carry a low risk of injury. It is advisable to perform ROM exercises 5-10 times in the morning to help reduce the joint friction. Stretching exercises should be done on 3-5 days a week at least.
Popular activities such as yoga and Tai Chi involve both ROM and stretching movements and are thus good options for arthritis sufferers.
Strengthening exercises are more vigorous than flexibility exercises and aim to improve muscle mass in order to reduce stress placed on the joint. They can also help to improve bone density and reduce inflammation, which is thought to contribute to arthritis. This, in turn, may lead to a reduction in the use of medications such as corticosteroids.
Patients with arthritis should try to carry out strengthening exercises 2-3 times a week, with each set comprising 8-10 exercises. These exercises usually involve moving the muscle against some form of resistance. Light hand-held weights, or resistance bands are two easy forms of strengthening exercise which can be easily incorporated into daily life.
This form of exercise depends primarily on the aerobic energy-generating process and involves moving the large muscles of the body in a rhythmic and repetitive manner. Aerobic exercises help to improve heart and lung function along with muscle strength.
Aerobics may also be beneficial in maintaining a healthy weight and improving mood, sleep and general health. Aerobic dance, bicycling, and walking are some common and safe forms of aerobic exercise. Exercising equipment such as treadmills and stationary bikes can also be used. It is recomended that such moderate intensity exercises be performed for at least 150 minutes each week.
Body awareness exercises
Body awareness exercises include activities such as Tai chi and yoga, which help improve posture and balance. It also helps to improve joint position sense (proprioception), coordination and relaxation.
Arthritis can result in impaired coordination and poor posture. It also affects balance, which leads to an increased risk of falling. Exercises can help improve the overall body functioning and thus can help reduce the risk of injury. Exercises show much promise in the management of arthritis; however, one should always consult a professional experienced in arthritis exercise to decide upon a suitable exercise regimen.