Got Arthritis? Do More Exercise!

cycling neck pain bike fittingWhen every joint hurts it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll feel like heading to the gym but more and more doctors are recommending increased exercise for those with arthritis.

With a recent study suggesting that patients are 20% more likely to exercise if their physician advises them to exercise, is your doc doing you a disservice if they fail to motivate you?

Of course, any new exercise should be cleared with a health care provider first to make sure it’s appropriate but getting up and staying active can have some great health benefits for those with arthritis and back pain, including:

  • Building and maintaining muscle mass to boost strength
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Reducing pain perception
  • Helping with blood sugar regulation to stave off or manage diabetes
  • Boosting mood and cognition
  • Reducing the risk of cardiovascular and other chronic disease

Incorporating physical activity into your day doesn’t mean pounding the treadmill or swimming 100 lengths of the pool. It might simply be taking a stroll during your lunch break, using the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator, or maybe jumping off transit a stop early to walk that extra two minutes or so. You can also do some free weights while on hold with HR at work! Just fill up a couple of water bottles and you’ve got a half kilo weight or so in each hand.

Exercise for Arthritis

If you can step it up a bit then swimming is a great activity if you have arthritis as the water helps to support your body and minimise shocks to the spine. Running may still be OK even with spinal stenosis and neck or back pain but it’s always best to check first and make sure you know how to spot red flags that mean you need to stop.

Red flags can include sudden intense pain, new symptoms, numbness and/or weakness in the extremities, bowel or bladder incontinence, or severe swelling.

How Much Exercise is Safe?

Ideally you can work up to and maintain around 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. This means exercise that gets your pulse rate to about 50-70% of maximum and can include cycling, skiing, running, swimming or other activity that leaves you a little breathless. Don’t jump in all at once of course as this can cause muscle strain, fatigue, and reduced motivation to continue. Start off easy and rest assured that 10 minutes of exercise here and there can add up to your 150 minutes over a week.

Remember to Rest!

Try not to have more than two consecutive days without activity and make sure to get your rest if you’ve worked out longer than usual as your body releases growth hormone to repair and strengthen muscle overnight. Exercise can be a great way to get you soundly off to sleep, helping overcome symptoms of insomnia that sometimes plague those with chronic pain conditions.

Getting up and active is also a good way to meet people and to socialise with friends and family, which offers an extra level of support when times get tough with your health. So, if your doctor’s not mentioned exercise as a key component of managing your arthritis, maybe it’s time to switch to a different physician or give them a gentle prod.

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  1. […] Exercise is also a key factor in helping bones to heal. While you clearly don’t want to put unnecessary and extreme strain on the spine it is important to engage in regular physical activity like walking, swimming, climbing stairs, cycling, or yoga as approved by your physician. This helps keeps muscles strong and flexible, which in turn improves the strength of bones, and also helps with blood sugar regulation, thus avoiding the adverse effects of diabetes and hyperglycemia on bone metabolism and inflammation. […]

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