When your joints hurt, you may feel like you want to avoid physical activity. Pain is exhausting and it is also often a signal that we should stop doing what we are doing to avoid injury. With arthritis, physical activity is one of the most effective pain relievers (with only positive side effects) but it takes a significant amount of willpower to get moving when your body hurts.
Arthritis-Friendly Physical Activity
The Center for Disease Control says: “ Participating in arthritis-friendly physical activity improves pain, function, mood, and quality of life without making symptoms worse.” In the clinic, I have seen people experience improvement in their relationships, professional life, and in their overall ability to enjoy life.
Strengthening exercises like weight training and calisthenics are integral to a physical activity program for arthritis because muscle strengthening takes pressure off the bony parts of the joint. Strengthening can also help to keep joints aligned and prevent injury by reducing the risk of falls.
Incorporating Physical Activity when You have Arthritis
For people with arthritis who are just beginning to incorporate physical activity into their lives, it is necessary to work up to longer routines and more challenging exercises. For some people, I recommend starting with a ten-minute walk and adding 10 minutes each week. Activities like water aerobics and biking are lower impact so they are helpful for strengthening muscles when higher impact exercise is too uncomfortable. The most important thing is to find a workout routine that you enjoy. Whether it is using the elliptical trainer in your basement while watching television, walking with a neighbor, dance classes, joining a bike club, silver sneakers programs or kickboxing, look for physical activity that will be the highlight of your day instead of thinking of exercise as a chore.
For people who want a little more guidance, I suggest the Medically Oriented Gym (MOG) at Independence Physical Therapy, Advantage Personal Training or Joint Effort. When you go to one of these places, you will get professional supervision to verify that you are doing the exercises correctly as well as motivation and support from professionals and other members.
For people with arthritis, engaging in physical activity may cause more pain at first but will reduce pain in the long term. Side effects include heart disease prevention, diabetes prevention, and treatment, weight loss, feeling great, making new friends, and having fun!
Exercise for Arthritis Resources
- Workout ideas from the Arthritis Foundation
- CDC video about relieving arthritis pain with physical activity
- Local resource: Joint Effort. This exercise facility for people with arthritis comes highly recommended by patients who have found relief from pain as well as a warm and welcoming community.
- Local resource: The Medically Oriented Gym at Independence Physical Therapy. This is a supportive and friendly gym for people who have medical conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease or balance challenges or people who have never seriously worked out and would like a physical therapist to oversee their plan.
- A favorite video of mine about the many health benefits of physical activity.