Exercising With Arthritis
We all know that people who are physically active are healthier and have a higher quality of life than people who are inactive. This is especially true for people with arthritis. In fact, according to orthopaedic specialist Jonathan Foret, MD, with Center for Orthopaedics, an affiliate of Imperial Health, and member of the medical staff of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital, certain types of exercise provide important additional benefits for people with arthritis.
“Arthritis is one of the most common reasons people give for limiting physical activity, but what many people don’t always understand is that being inactive may actually increase arthritis problems,” says Dr. Foret. “Many people who have arthritis are less fit, weaker and less flexible, and have more pain than necessary due to the complications of inactivity. Pain, stiffness, fatigue, and the fear of doing harm can make it difficult to be physically active with arthritis, but an appropriate exercise program is very important for people with this condition.
Many people with arthritis can safely participate in appropriate, regular exercise programs and achieve better aerobic fitness. “Low impact exercises, such as swimming and water aerobics, may be particularly well-tolerated by people with arthritis,” says Dr. Foret. “These types of exercise improve strength, endurance, and flexibility.”
He explains that there are three major types of exercise. Each plays a role in maintaining or improving health and fitness, and in reducing arthritis-related disability and pain.
• Flexibility or stretching: Gentle, low intensity exercises performed daily to maintain or improve range of motion are the foundation of most therapeutic exercise programs and also are important in recreational or fitness exercise. Adequate flexibility improves function and reduces the chance for injuries.
• Muscle conditioning (strength and endurance): These are more vigorous than flexibility exercises and are usually done every other day. They are designed to ask the muscle to work a bit harder than usual. This extra workload may come from lifting the weight of the arm, leg, or trunk against gravity, or using weights, elastic bands, or weight machines for more resistance. Muscles adapt to the new demands by getting stronger and/or becoming capable of working longer.
• Aerobic: These include activities that use the large muscles of the body in rhythmic and repetitive movements. Aerobic exercise improves heart, lung, and muscle function. It is also the kind of exercise that has benefits for weight control, mood, and general health. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, swimming, aerobic dance, aquatics, or bicycling or exercising on equipment such as treadmills or rowing machines. Daily activities such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, sweeping the driveway, playing golf, or walking the dog are also aerobic exercise. For people with arthritis, the most effective and safest intensity for aerobic exercise is moderate exertion. Moderate exertion means the exerciser can speak normally, doesn’t get out of breath or over-heated, and can carry on the activity at a comfortable pace.
According to Dr. Foret, a comprehensive exercise program for a person with arthritis should include all three types of exercise. Current recommendations for regular aerobic activity are for 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week. "The good news for those with arthritis is that these 30 minutes can be accumulated in three 10-minute periods of activity over the course of the day for the same health benefits as one continuous 30-minute session.”
He adds that the format and progression of an exercise program for someone with arthritis depends upon individual needs and capabilities. “Persons with long-standing or severe disease or multiple joint involvement should consult their physician before beginning an exercise program.”