The CDC reports that approximately 54.5 million people are medically diagnosed with arthritis, costing almost 130 billion dollars/year. In fact, for most US States, the annual cost of arthritis is more than 1% of the gross domestic product. And now that we’re living longer, it’s inevitable that arthritis will increase as the population grows and ages.
The goal of any registered personal trainer is to keep clients fit. This isn’t so they can go out and buy skinny pants and tight tops, but to keep clients mobile. Mobility and fitness = independence. Something as seemingly simple as the ability to go to the bathroom alone can mean the difference between living independently and assisted living.
For years, up through the 1970s, doctors prescribed rest for arthritis. But the more we learn, the more we understand our bodies need movement to be healthy, as regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training can help improve movement, joint pain, and strength in patients with arthritis. Moreover, exercise can help control pain, even decrease it, and delay disability.
Obesity control is one of the best “side effects” of exercising with arthritis. Arthritis is a killer for joints. The pain can be excruciating. So every extra pound counts. Many can fall into a vicious cycle of pain-no exercise-weight gain-more pain-no exercise. This leads to a shift in our body composition – more fat, less muscle mass and can put us at risk for so many other diseases including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, colon cancer and more.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month and to celebrate I want to share the four goals of any exercise program that patients with arthritis should strive for: flexibility, muscle strengthening, balance and endurance.
Here are the best ways to feel better and healthier through exercise:
- Flexibility and range of motion exercises can help improve our day-to-day tasks – making everything from tying our shoes to looking from side-to-side easier. Stretching and basic yoga poses are two great ways to keep flexibility up. Find ways to work your range of motion wherever you are. While at work, sitting on the bus, or watching TV, make fists and release. Find moments to roll shoulders and ankles and your head. Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.
- Muscle strengthening isn’t to bulk up. In fact, it’s the only way to preserve bone mass, which is a big must for those who suffer from arthritis. Progressive muscle strengthening exercises can help ease pain in joints by helping to preserve cartilage. For example, strengthening thigh muscles keeps the strain off knees. A strong core helps with back pain and posture. Hamstring curls, quad extensions, toe lifts work the lower body. Get your thighs stronger by sitting and standing during commercials – using only your arms for balance if necessary. Wrist curls, arm curls, side arm raises all work to strengthen the joints in the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Modified push-ups on a table, counter or wall and planks resting on your forearms work the large muscles in the upper body.
- Balance comes from muscle strength and joint mobility. Many people who suffer from arthritis feel unbalanced because they have weak muscles. We lose our sense of balance as we age. Yoga and Tai-Chi are both great for balance.
- Endurance (okay, cardio) is an essential part of any exercise program. That said, all cardio for patients with arthritis should be low-impact – keeping any kind of jarring movement away from the joints. My favorite exercises include swimming, walking, water aerobics, and Tai-Chi. They will get your blood pumping while protecting you from any high-impact pain. While your joints are flaring up, lay off the cardio until they feel better.
Before beginning on an exercise program, always get a thorough evaluation from your medical care provider. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that every step you take matters. And every step you take can take you closer to feeling better and maintaining your independence.