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Exercise Is Essential for Arthritis

Part 1 of 2 - Developing an Exercise Routine

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Updated February 07, 2013

Why Exercise?

If you have arthritis, exercise is essential. For anyone, exercise:

  • increases energy levels
  • helps develop a better sleep pattern
  • helps with weight control
  • maintains a healthy heart
  • increases bone and muscle strength
  • decreases depression and fatigue
  • serves to improve self-esteem and self-confidence

Exercise is important for healthy joints. Moving your joints daily helps keep them fully mobile. Strengthening the surrounding muscles helps support the joints. Also, joint movement transports nutrients and waste products to and from the cartilage, the material which protects and cushions the ends of the bones.

Types of Exercise

There are different types of exercise and it's important for you to understand why each is important.

Range-of-motion Exercises

Range-of-motion exercises are gentle stretching exercises that aim to move each joint through their normal maximum range of motion. These exercises need to be done daily to help keep joints fully mobile and prevent stiffness and deformities.

Range-of-motion exercises are important for arthritis patients who -- because of intense or chronic pain -- shy away from moving their joints through their full range. Some people believe that normal daily activities take joints through their full range of motion but this is not the case. Normal daily activities, such as housework, dressing, bathing, and cooking are not a substitute for range-of-motion exercises.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises help increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support the joints -- making the joints more stable and helping you move more easily and with less pain. The two types of strengthening exercises are isometric and isotonic.

  • Isometric exercises involve tightening the muscles, without moving the joints. These exercises are especially useful when joint motion is impaired.
  • Isotonic exercises involve strengthening the muscles by moving the joints.

Endurance Exercises

Endurance exercises are physical activities that bring your heart rate up to your optimal target level for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Your target heart rate is computed based on age and physical condition. By raising the heart rate, endurance exercises improve cardiovascular fitness. Endurance exercises should be performed at least three times a week to build on their effectiveness.

Many arthritis patients who regularly perform endurance exercises find they are able to:

  • increase physical strength
  • develop a better mental attitude
  • improve arthritis symptoms

Not all arthritis patients are able to perform endurance exercises however. For example, patients with long-term rheumatoid arthritis who have severe joint damage and functional limitations may be unable to do this type of activity. Endurance exercises for arthritis patients need to be chosen carefully to avoid joint injury.

Exercise Choices

You should always discuss exercise plans and goals with your doctor before starting a routine or program. There may be exercises that are off-limits because they could cause injury or further joint damage, espeically when joints are swollen and inflamed. The amount and form of exercise recommended for each individual will vary depending on:

Here are some exercise options that tend to work well for people with arthritis:

  • Walking can be an excellent exercise choice. Walking helps build strength and maintain joint flexibility, aids in bone health and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Tai Chi is a gentle martial arts exercise with origins in ancient China. While performing fluid and flowing circular movements, you can relax, maintain mobility, and improve range of motion.
  • Yoga can provide pain relief, relax stiff muscles, and ease sore joints. With controlled movements, pressures, stretches and deep breathing relaxation, yoga can improve range of motion. Use caution when disease activity is flaring and avoid excess torque or pressure on the joints.
  • Warm water exercise is an excellent way to build up strength, ease stiff joints, and relax sore muscles. The water helps support the body while the joints are moved through their full range of motion.
  • Bicycling / Cycling, both indoor and outdoor, may provide a good low impact exercise option. Cycling as an exercise, can be either freestanding or stationary. Cycling equipment can be adjusted and adapted for many physical limitations.
  • Running / Jogging may still be a good exercise option if you run on softer surfaces. Walking or more gentle forms of exercise may be a better option though, if you already have arthritis in your lower extremities. Contrary to popular belief, running does not cause osteoarthritis in people who have with normal, uninjured knees.

Go to Part 2 --- Exercise Is Essential for Arthritis --->

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