If you have arthritis, it is vital that you try to stay active or increase your level of activity as this can help reduce pain, improve function, and keep you more active.
Why should I stay active?
There are many great benefits to staying active, whether you live with arthritis currently or even if you’re just worried about getting it in the future. Some of the best reasons for staying active include:
- Health-Span: Not only does keeping fit prevent early death from the majority of preventable conditions, but it will also afford you a better quality of life.
- Movement: Those who lack strong, active muscles are less able to move and balance themselves. They are also more likely to suffer fractures from an injury or fall, and are less able to fight an infection that would otherwise have been mild.
- Fight illness: Maintaining strong muscles not only helps you move, but also improves your immunity. Keeping strong means your immune system is better able to deal with an infection and fight inflammation.
- Decreased Pain: Overwhelming evidence confirms if we continue to move and exercise, then our pain levels will decrease and be more manageable.
- Independence: As we get older, the ability to perform a squat (getting on or off of a seat, toilet, bed or navigating the stairs) is the test used to see if you’ll need care in older age. If you work to make exercising a habit right now, then you’ll be in a much better position as you get older.
Shouldn’t I rest my joints and muscles if I have arthritis?
This is a common myth. There is no reason to take it easy when we have arthritis. If anything, we need to find ways keep exercising and exercising in different ways. While there is logic in learning to listen to our bodies and finding what exercises work well, but that doesn’t mean we should stop exercising entirely.
In terms of pain and joint-related problems, we see the majority of patients reporting less pain if they strengthen the muscles around a joint. This is especially important if we have had an injury or if a joint is effected by some form or arthritis.
So, strength training really is ‘win-win-win’ in terms of pain levels, avoiding loss of independence and maintaining healthy immunity.
Tips for starting to exercise
We all realise that fitting exercise into a busy schedule and understanding what one should include in an exercise plan can be a challenge.
Below are some practical tips and ideas that can act as a useful staring point.
- A good old fashioned schedule can work wonders. Try planning out your exercises for the week in advance. Use a diary or notes app on your phone. This small act means you don’t have to worry about what exercise to do during your week, and makes you more likely to stick to your routine. Invest 5 minutes every weekend to plan the week ahead.
- Take micro breaks from sitting throughout the day. Try to spend time both sitting, standing and walking whilst working. Your body will thank you for not spending all day in the same position. Variation is key!
- Even 10 minute a day of exercise can be of huge benefit in the long term. By being active every day, we are also training our minds that this is our normal. Subsequently, when opportunities to do more exercise arise, we will be more likely to take up those opportunities.
- Listen to your body and build in time for rest and recuperation. If you feel tired or sore, that’s normal. Perhaps concentrate on stretching that day, or use a walk or pool session to recover actively. This will allow for your body to recover and adapt to exercise.
- Invest in some simple equipment such as exercise bands and a good floor matt. Simple things like these don’t break the bank, can be easily stored away, and will open up many ways to get more mobile and stronger at home.
- Aim to move every day. Even if it is stretching, gentle mobilisations or a walk. It will still be of benefit.
- Vary your routine. Stop your body getting use to the same old things. Research has shown that variation in activity and duration will allow for better adaptations in your fitness.
- Be realistic with training and don’t forget to recover. If you are going to train hard one day, then allow enough time afterwards to let your body fully recover.
- Perhaps try to do some own-bodyweight exercise during your micro breaks, such as trying to keep your feet off the floor while sitting.
Remember, no matter what level of conditioning you are starting at, there is always something can do to improve. Even if you’re at home all day.
Keep an eye on the Arthritis Action website for new resources and exercises for any level.