Whether you have knee arthritis or hip arthritis, research suggests that movement can improve symptoms. Read on for 5 exercises for arthritis you can do this fall.
When the rainy season hits and the cold drives us indoors, it can be tricky finding arthritis-friendly replacements for our usual movement routines. The shifting seasons also often pack a double punch, with the cold worsening joint pain and arthritis symptoms, while also encouraging us to skip out on the exercise and pain that accompanies it in favor of cozy moments on the couch.
But even though hitting your movement goals during the rainy season can be tough (especially when living with arthritis and chronic pain), research suggests it’s well worth it.
A quick note — If you’ve been living with arthritis for a while, you’ve probably heard the spiel on weight loss more times than you can count. We want to make it very clear: you are beautiful as you are. Weight loss is an option, but is it just one of many that you can choose from in your healing journey. And while we will be mentioning weight loss, our goal in this article is to discuss the many benefits that movement and activity can have on your health and wellbeing, regardless of weight loss.
How Physical Activity Affects Arthritis
Experts have found that consistent exercise programs can have significant benefits, not just for our physical health but our mental health as well. Most importantly, researchers have found that moderate exercise (just 30 minutes a few days each week) can support arthritis pain relief.
Weight Loss and Stress on the Joints
Simply put, the more weight on joints, the more cartilage degradation and inflammation tends to occur. One study found that as little as a 5% drop in body mass (under 10 pounds for most of us) can significantly lessen OA symptoms. Health looks different for each of us though, so check with your doctor for specific guidelines. And remember — your worth is never determined by your weight. Even if you don’t lose weight, you are still deserving of pain relief. Don’t let anyone (especially the medical community) tell you otherwise.
Leptin and Inflammation
Also known as the “satiety hormone,” leptin is a hormone that helps us feel full after eating and impacts our mood, motivation, energy levels, and boosts immune system activity. Because leptin is produced by fat, the more fat we have, the more leptin we tend to produce. Unfortunately, more leptin also means more immune system activity, which can increase inflammation and cartilage breakdown and slow the creation of healthy new cartilage.
Cholesterol and Improved Circulation
Known for its impact on heart health, cholesterol also plays a critical role in many essential functions like bone health and cell movement and communication. When cholesterol is imbalanced, it can clog our arteries and prevent nutrient-rich blood from providing support throughout the body, such as for feeding and repairing our cartilage, bones, and joint tissue. Experts report that physical activity can help keep cholesterol balanced, lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 15% and raise “good” HDL cholesterol by up to 20%.
Strengthening Joint Protection
Strengthening exercises help provide essential support for arthritic joints. They can help build up the tendon and ligament support surrounding a joint, while also strengthening nearby muscles. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that physical activity helps decrease falls, which is essential considering that people with arthritis are 2.5 times more likely to experience two or more falls and fall-related injuries over a 12-month period.
Mental Health and Stress
Exercise isn’t just good for your body — it nourishes your brain too! Research has found that physical activity can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, lessen negative mood, boost self-esteem, and benefit cognitive function. Consistent movement routines can also have a positive effect on stress, reduce tension, improve sleep quality, and allow our bodies to truly relax and repair themselves.
Tips for Warming Up and Cooling Down
When it comes to exercises for arthritis, you always want to warm up and cool down to protect your joints.
General guidelines suggest applying heat for up to 20 minutes to your joints before working out if they are aching. Additionally, make sure to move slowly for the first 5-10 minutes as you get started with your workout.
When you’ve finished your workout, you can ice your joints for up to 20 minutes to ward off joint swelling and inflammation the next day.
A little soreness after exercise is normal, but if your joint’s still hurting after two hours, you may have overdone it. Make sure you do less next time!
5 Gentle Indoor Exercises to Stay Active During the Rainy Season
The general recommendation is to aim for 30 minutes of moderate movement a day, at least five days a week. But you can get creative in how you achieve this goal! You can get all your movement done in one session, but you can also break your goal up into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minutes sessions throughout the day.
The CDC suggests that moderate exercise means getting your heart rate up between 64-76% of your maximum heart rate, but don’t sweat this one too much (pun intended). As long as you get your body moving, just focus on protecting your joints and doing what feels good. Aim for an intensity level where you can still talk, but not sing.
#1 Tai Chi
Tai Chi is a gentle and meditative aerobic activity that involves slow and steady movement aligned with energetic breathwork (rooted in qigong). Research has found that Tai Chi can help with muscle strengthening, focus, stress, aerobic conditioning, and most importantly, improves balance and may lessen the risk of falls.
#2 Gentle Yoga and Pilates
Yoga and pilates offer the benefits of strengthening and supporting our muscles and joints with minimal impact. When practicing yoga or pilates, choose more gentle and restorative options. It can also be wise to have extra pillows and blankets nearby to place under your body if you start feeling pain from where your body is in contact with the ground. And as always, if something doesn’t feel good, don’t do it. Simply choose another pose and keep going.
#3 Resistance Training
While it might come as a surprise, weight training and resistance band training are great low-impact ways to improve muscle strength and protect joints. Research has found that resistance training helps improve muscle strength and reduce pain for older adults with osteoarthritis. If you’re in the middle of an active flare-up, then it’s best to avoid resistance training. But if not, gentle resistance training is a great option
#4 Swimming, Water Aerobics, and Water Walking
Workouts in the water are great for people with most types of arthritis because they minimize impact on the joints without sacrificing cardiovascular benefits. While you need access to a pool, swimming, water aerobics, and even walking through the water are great full body exercises to reap the benefits of movement while protecting your joints.
#5 Elliptical or Stationary Bike
If you have access to a gym or have home equipment, the elliptical machine or stationary bikes are great ways to exercise with arthritis. Because your feet stay in contact with the machine the entire time, you minimize impact on your joints. These types of exercise machines can help you get your heart rate up while making sure you’re not placing too much stress on your knees or hips.
We hope this serves you in your journey to reclaim your life from arthritis and get back to feeling like You again.
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