Managing Arthritis With Exercise

Exercise has important health benefits for everyone - regardless of age and physical condition. But for people with arthritis, working out regularly, and within their limits, is critical.

"Regular, moderate exercise offers a host of benefits to people with arthritis," says Dr. Jack Klippel,with the Arthritis Foundation. "Exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscle around the joints, and increases flexibility and endurance."

It also helps promote overall health and fitness by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, controlling your weight, and decreasing depression.

The following tips will help you start and stick with an exercise program.

First steps

Remember to start slowly. Exercises that improve flexibility or stretching exercises that improve your range of motion and help you perform daily activities are good ones to initiate yourself into an exercise routine. Once you feel comfortable, you may be able to move on to weight training and endurance workouts, such as cycling, swimming, walking, or yoga.

"Whatever exercise program you decide on, you should always consult your doctor before starting out," says Dr. Klippel. You should also talk to your doctor if you notice a change in your condition - for example, if you have increased pain or decreased mobility. A physical therapist can help you get started. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are available to ease discomfort during and after exercise.

Working it out

When you have arthritis, physical activity and exercise may not seem appealing. The thought of walking or swimming might make you cringe when your body already aches.

However, "exercise keeps you moving when your condition threatens to immobilize you," says Dr. Klippel. "I recommend water exercises because water buoyancy takes weight off your joints."

Swimming laps, water walking or jogging, and water aerobics are examples. Increasingly, physical therapists are offering exercise treatments in the water, an approach that is often called "aqua-therapy."

Other forms of low-impact workouts that place less stress on your joints include yoga, tai chi, and cycling, as well as using cross-country ski simulators or elliptical trainers. Cross training - performing a variety of exercises and activities on different days - helps prevent overuse injuries, keeps your program fresh, and contributes to better training for your muscles.

Strong muscles ease joint pressure

Weight training isn't just for bodybuilders and athletes. Strong muscles around joints help take pressure off cartilage and bone.

"It's particularly important for people who have arthritis to do exercises that strengthen quadriceps muscles," Dr. Klippel says.

You have various options for resistance training, including free weights, machines, or elastic tubing.

It's crucial to use proper techniques when strength training, and moves must be tailored to your specific condition. "Your doctor or a physical therapist can design a strength program that will give the most benefit with the least possible joint irritation," Dr. Klippel says.

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