Arthritis and exercise

July 15, 2010 | In: Medical facts

Creativity and a little self-knowledge help in overcoming the obstacles arthritis often poses to keeping fit and physically active.

Older adults frequently cite osteoarthritis as a reason for not exercising. However, given the wide variety of activities that provide an aerobic workout, there are a number of ways to make adjustments that accommodate joints that hurt and restrict motion.

A person with arthritis may wonder if exercise will make his or her joints hurt more. The answer is no, not if the exercise program is designed right. The cardiovascular fitness gained through regular aerobic exercise usually makes a person feel better overall. In addition to strengthening the heart and lungs, exercise decreases the incidence of falls, slows the progression of osteoporosis and helps maintain a good mental attitude.

Before starting on an exercise program, work with your health care provider to get joint pain and inflammation under control and determine the range of motion in the affected limb or limbs. Then, choose activities that best suit you. You may need to modify the activity or the equipment you use. The key is to minimize impact and pick an exercise that doesn’t stress arthritic joints.

If the lower extremities are affected, consider activities that rely more on arm motion than leg motion. Examples include: aqua aerobics, low-impact aerobics and using a stationery bike designed to pedal with the arms rather than the legs. If you like to swim, use strokes such as the crawl and try leg floats to limit the motion of your legs.

For walking, insert shock-absorbing insoles in your shoes. To increase the aerobic workout of your walk, carry weights in your hands. You can make your own weights by putting one to two pounds of beach sand or lead shot in a sock and tying the top.

Aerobic activities that use legs more than arms include traditional aerobics, walking steps or hills and bicycling. Upright handlebars are a lot easier on arthritic shoulders than the racing type. When swimming, try breast stroke or side stroke, which use limited arm motion, or try clutching a kick board to your chest so that you’re floating on it, then propel yourself through the water with only the flutter kick.

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