My main job is working with older people in residential aged care facilities to help them get some form of exercise, usually very gentle and basic. I also conduct Yoga classes for people over 60. One of the many issues I deal with in residential aged care – in consultation with qualified healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists and doctors – is exercise for people with arthritis.
While the average reader of Motherpedia is unlikely to have an arthritic condition, you may know someone who does – such as a parent or grandparent. It is also more common than many people think for younger people to start experiencing some form or joint pain or arthritis from a relatively early age.
Regardless of age, exercise is vital for people with arthritis to help increase strength and flexibility, reduce joint pain and to fight fatigue.
Of course, when stiff and painful joints are already bogging you down, the thought of walking around the block, swimming a few laps, or even walking across the room unaided as many of my regular clients try to do, might seem overwhelming.
But even moderate exercise can ease pain and maintain a healthy weight. When arthritis threatens to immobilise someone you care for, that is the time to push them to exercise, as it keeps them moving.
Check with your doctor first
Make sure you talk to your doctor first about how exercise can help your treatment. Ask him or her what type of exercise is best for you, that will give the most benefit with the least aggravation.
It might include range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises, aerobic exercise and other activities.
These exercises relieve stiffness and increase your ability to move your joints through their full range of motion. Range-of-motion exercises involve moving your joints through their normal range of movement, such as raising your arms over your head or rolling your shoulders forward and backward. These exercises can be done daily or at least every other day.
These exercises help you build strong muscles that help support and protect your joints. Weight training is an example of a strengthening exercise that can help you maintain your current muscle strength or increase it. Do your strengthening exercises every second day — but take an extra day off if your joints are painful or if you notice any swelling.
Aerobic or endurance exercises help with your overall fitness. They can improve your cardiovascular health, help you control your weight and give you more stamina. Examples of low-impact aerobic exercises that are easier on your joints include walking, riding a bike and swimming. Try to work your way up to 20-to-30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. You can split up that time into 10-minute blocks if that's easier for you.
Any movement, no matter how small, can help. If a particular workout or activity appeals to you, don't hesitate to ask your doctor whether it's right for you.
For example, your doctor might give suggest gentle forms of yoga and tai chi. If so, be sure to tell your instructor about your condition and avoid positions or movements that can cause pain.
Don't overdo it
Finally, don't overdo it. While some pain after exercise is expected if you haven't been active for a while, if it lasts more than two hours, it's probably too much. This doesn't mean stop doing it, but it does mean to approach it more gently.
Talk to your doctor about what pain is normal and what pain is a sign of something more serious.