Many people who suffer from arthritis and inflammation tend to avoid exercise, thinking it will increase their pain or make their joints worse. In fact, the opposite is true. According to the American College of Rheumatology, people with arthritis who exercise regularly have less pain and more energy. They also sleep better and have better day-to-day function.
Whether you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, research indicates that these four types of exercise can help to reduce pain and improve mobility, balance, and coordination:
These exercises help to maintain or improve how easily your joints move. They can decrease the risk of injury, and can improve posture. Range-of-motion and stretching exercises, including yoga and Pilates, are in this category.
As a muscle becomes stronger, it provides more support to the joint and helps reduce load and stress that can lead to joint pain. These exercises use resistance, which makes your muscles work harder to build strength. Some of them work against gravity, as with push-ups or lifting weights, so you might hear them called “weight-bearing” exercises. Water can also provide resistance.
These exercises improve heart, lung, and muscle function, and can also help improve mood and quality of sleep and control weight. Aerobic exercises incorporate the large muscles of the body in repetitive and rhythmic movements; safe forms include walking, dancing, aquatic exercise, bicycling, or exercising on equipment such as stationary bikes, treadmills, and elliptical trainers. Any daily task or leisure activity—such as walking the dog or even vacuuming—can be intensified into an aerobic one.
This last form of exercise works to improve posture, balance, coordination, and relaxation. T’ai chi and yoga are examples of exercises that incorporate elements of body awareness.
The amount, intensity, and duration that’s best for you will depend on several factors (your age, activity level, and severity of arthritis). Be sure to consult your doctor to determine how to incorporate exercise safely into your daily routine.
Like any chronic disease, arthritis can be stressful! Because arthritis limits your mobility, it may take an emotional toll as you avoid taking part in activities you once enjoyed, or even have difficulty doing something as simple as open a jar. In addition, severe pain can be tough to endure.
These aspects of arthritis can cause depression, which can be very challenging to deal with. Regular exercise can improve mood. However, as you treat your arthritis pain, it can also help to get counseling to help with feeling helpless and to address feelings of loss.