Exercise And Arthritis
In the past, doctors often advised arthritis patients to rest and avoid even the most moderate exercise. Today, recommendations concerning exercise are more likely to be tailored to the individual. Rest is still important, especially during flare-ups. But the most important factor in living a full life in spite of arthritis is that you learn to recognize and respect your own limits. If you listen to your body, stop when you tire or become a bit achy, you will likely be able to engage in regular, moderate physical activities that will, in fact, play an essential part in managing your arthritic conditions.
A 1996 report by the Surgeon General's office on Physical Activity and Health asserts that appropriate exercise decreases fatigue, strengthens bones and muscles and enhances flexibility and stamina. Chances are that your doctor will recommend a balanced approach to rest and exercise.
Usually designed to achieve individual goals, therapeutic exercises may be developed with the expertise of a physical or occupational therapist. Typically, a comprehensive exercise program helps people manage arthritis in three very important ways: improving the range-of-motion, strengthening the muscles around the affected area and increasing overall endurance.
By encouraging you to move a joint as far as it comfortably will go and then to stretch it a bit further, range-of-motion exercises work to increase stamina and joint flexibility. These types of exercises can be used every day, even during flares. However, when your joints are painful and swollen, take care to move them gently.
Strengthening exercises increase muscle tone and strength, which then stabilize and protect weak joints. Endurance exercises improve heart and lung function as well as general stamina; these include aerobic exercises such as walking, swimming and bicycling. Although strengthening and endurance exercises can reduce pain and help maintain joint flexibility, they should not be done when joint disease is most active (or flaring).
Water-based exercise may prove particularly helpful and well-tolerated. The water acts to buoy your body weight so that more range-of-motion, strengthening and endurance activites may be pursued, often with less discomfort than during land-based exercise.
You may also want to adjust your exercise program to include low-impact exercise, such as gardening, low-impact aerobics, yoga or golf. But be sure to discuss with your physician your activity level, preferences and any symptoms experienced during exercise.