Osteoarthritis: Elaine reveals her experience of the condition
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More than 10 million people have arthritis or another condition that impacts the joints in a similar way, but that doesn’t make it any easier to live with. Joint pain, inflammation, restricted movement, weakness and muscle wasting make arthritis patients dread exercising, but you can prevent your condition from progressing with regular exercise.
Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions account for more than 22 percent of the total burden of ill health.
The painful condition can put you off exercising, but being active can reduce and prevent pain as well as boost your energy, reduce stiffness, improve your range of mobility and movement, and increase your muscle strength.
Arthritis or not, adults should do at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week to ward off life-threatening diseases and this can include anything from doing housework or gardening to going to the gym or running.
Your weekly exercise must include activity that makes you slightly short of breath, but people with arthritis should do additional exercises to target their symptoms.
Here are the four best forms of exercise to ease arthritis symptoms, according to Versus Arthritis.
Stretching exercises are an important part of treating arthritis and doctors may also refer to them as range-of-movement or flexibility exercises.
The last thing you want to do to stiff, painful joints is stretch them, but this will help you loosen up and experience less pain at other times in the day.
The Versus Arthritis site explains: “Not moving our joints fully can cause them to become more stiff and painful over time.
These exercises involve bending and straightening your joints as much as is comfortable to keep them flexible and reduce the risk of any loss of mobility.
“When doing stretching exercises, you should try to move your joints as far as you comfortably can, until you feel a stretch in the muscles around the joint.
“Try to keep the movement slow and controlled.”
You can get specific stretching tips from a physiotherapist or the Versus Arthritis site here.
Alternatively, you could try yoga and tai chi classes online or in person.
Strengthening exercises keep the muscles around your joints strong and secure, helping to reduce pain in the joints and the tissues around them.
The only time strengthening exercises don’t work for arthritis is if your joints are hot or swollen.
The organisation’s site says: “Changes to our muscles can happen very quickly – you might notice that you feel weaker or wobbly even after a few days of rest if you’ve been unwell with a cold or flu.
“To strengthen your muscles, you simply need to move against some form of resistance.
“Even things like standing up from a chair will mean you’re strengthening your leg muscles because you’re working against gravity.
“Start strengthening exercises slowly and build up how much you do gently.
“Start with a low number of repetitions of different strengthening exercises and add to this over time.
“Your muscles should feel tired and like they have done some work after the exercises.
“You should aim to do some strengthening exercises on at least two days a week.”
Pilates and tai chi are other examples of strengthening exercises.
You can’t just be strong and flexible, you have to be physically fit too to help you live longer.
Aerobic exercises improve your strength, balance and range of movement while improving your heart and lung health.
Try cycling, swimming, exercise classes, or walking to get you breathing more quickly and your heart beating faster.
Swimming is particularly good for arthritis as less weight is put on your joints.
Balance exercises twice a week will reduce your risk of falls, frailty and complications as you age.
Versus Arthritis explains: “There are specific balance exercises that can help, but things like playing bowls, doing tai chi or dancing – either at classes or around your home – improve balance too.
“If practising your balance at home, make sure the area around you is clear of anything that could trip you up.”
No matter what exercise you choose, The Arthritis Foundation recommends going slow and steady.
The site explains: “If you’ve been on the couch for six months and you haven’t been moving, you shouldn’t go and walk two miles tomorrow.
“Start from where you are, don’t leap ahead and start from where you really want to be.
“If you start slow and work up to more, most of the time the pain is not too bad.
“If you’re always at a four and you go to a six after exercise then it’s probably fine, but if you go to an eight after you exercise that is not good.
“Learn what your thresholds are because you want to be able to maintain that.”
Tailor your workout routine to your goals, abilities and where you are now and keep it up to see improvement.
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