Keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones. Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints. If you have arthritis, the key to keeping moving is finding the type, frequency and duration of exercise that is best for you. Arthritis is a progressive disease. Physical activity that was okay last year or five years ago could be the absolute wrong plan for the current degree of degeneration of your joint cartilage and underlying bone.
So where do you start? First talk to your doctor about adapting your fitness plan to the type of arthritis you have and which joints are involved. Your doctor or a physical therapist can work with you to develop an exercise plan that gives you the most benefit with the least aggravation to your joints. These exercises might include: range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, aerobic exercise and other activities.
Range-of-motion exercises are designed to relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion. These exercises include movements such as raising your arms over your head or rolling your shoulders forward and backward. In most cases, these exercises can be done daily.
Strengthening exercises help to build strong muscle support and protect your joints. Strengthening exercises such as weight training can help you maintain or increase muscle strength. You should avoid exercising the same muscle groups two days in a row. Rest a day between your workouts, and take an extra day or two if joints are painful or swollen.
When starting a strength-training program, a three-day-a-week program may help jump-start your improvement, but going forward two days a week is sufficient to maintain your progress.
Aerobic exercises help with your overall fitness. They can improve your cardiovascular health, help control your weight and give you more stamina and energy.
Low-impact aerobic exercises that are easier on your joints include walking, bicycling, swimming and using an elliptical machine. Try to work your way up to 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise per week. Remember, you can split that time into 10-minute blocks if that is easier on your joints.
Moderate intensity aerobic exercise is the safest and most effective if practiced most days of the week, but even a couple of days a week is better than no exercise. To determine if you are in the moderate intensity exercise zone, you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising, though your breathing rate will be increased.
Any movement, no matter how small, can help. Daily activities such as vacuuming the house, raking leaves and walking the dog count.
Yoga and tai chi are body awareness exercises that can help improve balance, prevent falls, improve posture and coordination, and promote relaxation. Always tell your instructor about your condition and avoid positions or movements that cause pain.