Exercise is crucial if you have arthritis. But knowing just how much activity to do when you’re hurting can be tricky. After all, research has shown that moderate activity can help prevent the progression of arthritis and improve overall function.
But while mild muscle soreness after a workout is normal, sharp pain during or immediately after can signal injury. And sometimes, simply the fear of pain can keep you from wanting to do any kind of exercise at all. According to a new study, however, just a little physical activity seems to go a long way toward helping older adults with arthritis remain able to do daily tasks.
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Arthritis Symptom Relief with Exercise
Scientific studies have shown that participation in moderate-intensity, low-impact physical activity improves pain, function, mood, and quality of life without worsening symptoms or disease severity. Being physically active can also delay the onset of disability if you have arthritis. But people with arthritis may have difficulty being physically active because of symptoms (e.g., pain, stiffness), their lack of confidence in knowing how much and what to do, and unclear expectations of when they will see benefits. Both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities are proven to work well and are recommended for people with arthritis.
Older adults with arthritis-related joint pain and stiffness need to keep moving to remain functionally independent. But only 10 percent of older Americans with arthritis in their knees meet federal guidelines of at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. This Northwestern University study found that doing even about one-third of that amount is still beneficial. The study involved more than 1,600 adults 49 or older with arthritic pain or stiffness in their hips, knees, or feet.
Those who did a minimum of 45 minutes of moderate activity — such as brisk walking — a week were 80 percent more likely to improve or sustain physical function and gait speed over two years compared with those who did less activity, the researchers found.
“Even a little activity is better than none,” said study first author Dorothy Dunlop. “For those older people suffering from arthritis who are minimally active, a 45-minute minimum might feel more realistic,” said Dunlop, a professor of rheumatology and preventive medicine at Northwestern’s School of Medicine in Chicago.
She said the federal guidelines are important because the more you do, the better you’ll feel and the greater the health benefits. “But even achieving this less rigorous goal will promote the ability to function and may be a feasible starting point for older adults dealing with discomfort in their joints,” Dunlop said in a university news release.
Some mild pain or discomfort is typical when you first start to move. Still, after a few minutes, you’ll usually start to feel better, says A. Lynn Millar, Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at Winston Salem State University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Our joints and muscles get nutrition through movement,” she explains. “Once you start to move around a little, you’ll improve the lubrication and circulation around that joint.” Start with some gentle, active range of motion movements, and if that feels OK, progress to some low-impact activity like walking, she advises.
Stretches and Physical Activity for Arthritis
In addition to the activities recommended above, flexibility exercises are also important. Many people with arthritis have joint stiffness, making daily tasks such as bathing and fixing meals difficult. Doing daily flexibility exercises for all upper (e.g., neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and finger) and lower (e.g., low back, hip, knee, ankle, and toes) joints of the body help maintain essential range of motion. Some activities take more effort for older adults and those with low fitness or poor function. For example, walking at a brisk pace for a 23-year-old healthy male is moderate intensity, but the same activity may be a vigorous activity for a 77-year-old male with diabetes. You should adjust the level of effort during the activity to make it comfortable for you.
Talk to your doctor. If you have arthritis or another chronic health condition, you should already be under the care of a doctor or other health care provider. Health care providers and certified exercise professionals can answer your questions about how much and what types of activity are right for you.
Whole Body Wellness
Overall health and wellness can be achieved by following proper nutrition and engaging in regular exercise and/or physical activities. While these are some of the most common ways to ensure whole body health and wellness, visiting a qualified and experienced healthcare professional can also grant your body additional benefits. Chiropractic care, for instance, is a safe and effective alternative treatment option utilized by people to maintain well-being.
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