An essential part of successfully managing arthritic relief is to follow a proper, well-advised exercise program.  Exercise helps in relieving joint stiffness, strengthening of muscles which in turn reduce stress on joints, keeping bone and cartilage tissue healthy and in increasing flexibility.

A daily activity program of around 30 minutes is normally recommended.  However, before commencing on any form of exercise regimen, one must always take the advice of one’s doctor in order to avoid taking any unnecessary risks.  Most doctors, generally, do recommend exercise for arthritic patients

While the suggested types of exercises may vary, warming up first is common to all forms. For arthritic patients, it is best to start warming up by first applying warm compresses to the affected joints, and then doing a few mild stretches. 

There are a wide variety of exercises one can do.  Dance or low-impact aerobics is a good place to start.  These are good for relieving stiffness and increasing flexibility.  Walking too is a great way to exercise for an arthritic patient.  Carrying light one-pound weights and moving the arms while walking will exercise the whole body. To make the exercise of walking interesting, it’s good to keep changing where you walk, or to alternate walking with dance on some days.  
Exercising in the pool is also a great way to work out.  Water is an excellent aid.  It creates resistance which helps develop the muscles in the whole body while providing cushioning that reduces shocks to the joints.  The cardiovascular system also gets exercised in the water.  Ideally, a heated pool is preferred as the warm water soothes the joints while dilating the blood vessels, thereby increasing circulation.

Keeping that in mind, maybe it would be beneficial to add a spa visit after your workout.  Soothing jets of water would work on your muscles and help increase blood circulation which is always beneficial for arthritic patients.
Yoga is yet another form of exercise that is beneficial for those afflicted with arthritis.  Yoga originated in India and consists of several stretching and posture oriented exercises that are aimed at reducing physical and mental stress and increasing flexibility.    While there are different forms of Yoga, Hatha Yoga is a great way to start.  Comprising of simple poses and gentle stretches that increase balance and flexibility, Hatha Yoga is easy to learn.  One can probably search the local activities paper or relevant section of the local press for information on classes being held close by.

In case you cannot go for a walk, or go to the pool or for a yoga class, there are exercises you can do at home daily which will help improve strength, conditioning and flexibility. 

  1. For your legs and knees:  While seated in a chair facing forward, you can flex your legs i.e.  move your leg outward without moving your foot off the floor.  Hold it there for a few seconds then retract your leg until your foot is behind you and hold for a few seconds.  Do the same thing with your other leg too. 
  2. For your wrists:  Interlock your fingers and then flex your wrists slowly to the left and then to the right.  Do this for a few minutes daily.  This will help reduce pain in the wrists and will increase flexibility.
  3.  For your upper back:  Stand upright in front of a table.  Lean over and place your hands on the table.  Tuck your chin towards your collarbone.  Once you are in position, lift your upper back upward.  At the same time take a deep breath and hold the position and your breath for 5-10 seconds.  Slowly relax by gently lowering your spine, move both shoulder blades forward as if towards each other and exhale at the same time. Do 10-15 reps of this exercise daily.
  4. For shoulders and middle back:  Stand as straight as you can, reach back and interlock your fingers behind you.  Inhale slowly and deeply and lift your shoulders upward.  Exhale slowly and lower your shoulders.  Keep your chest up and chin in while doing this exercise.  Do 10-15 reps of this exercise daily.
  5. For shoulders and upper chest:  Find a corner of the room that is free. Stand 18 inches away from the corner and place your hands on the walls on either side of the corner.  Inhale deeply, and press toward the corner while exhaling.  10-15 reps daily should help. 

Whatever form of exercise you decide to follow, remember to breathe properly. Breathing correctly increases the intake of oxygen which promotes a healthy heart rate and reduces fatigue.  Also, the oxygen helps circulation which in turn is important in achieving flexibility. 

Initially, the body will naturally be a little sore and tired.  Be careful and don’t overdue it.  If your soreness continues for over an hour or you experience reduction in mobility even an hour after the exercise, if there are signs of swelling in the joints, reduce the number of reps you are doing.  These are signs of overdoing the activity. Just remember, with any form of exercise, start slowly and then build up.

In a basic exercise program, there are three main types to include –

  • Range-of-motion exercises
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Endurance exercises.

Let’s look at these a little.

  • Range-of motion exercises:  The exercises that come under this category refer to those activities where the joints move regularly and naturally.  Exercises in this area are aimed at reducing stiffness and improving flexibility.  While these exercises can be done every day, it is recommended to perform them on alternate days.
  • Strengthening exercises:  These exercises fall into two groups i.e. isometric exercises where one tightens the muscles without moving one’s joints and isotonic exercises that involves moving the joints in order to strengthen muscle movement.  These exercises are also best performed on alternate days and to be avoided if suffering from swelling and more than mild joint pain.
  • Endurance exercises:  As the name suggests, these exercises are aimed at increasing stamina.  They also help with weight control, improve personal and mental strength and help with sleep. Examples of popular endurance exercises are walking, aqua based exercises and stationary bike riding.  20-30 minute workouts or 2-3 short 10 minute sessions per day, thrice a week are recommended provided there is no swelling or more than mild joint pain.  

A few tips on setting up an exercise regimen:

  •  Based on your environment, personal health requirements and budget, set up your own unique exercise program.  Start slowly and gradually build up but ONLY after getting the go-ahead from your personal health provider and under the supervision of a workout trainer.
  • Warm up before exercising, maybe by applying hot packs and cool down after with cold packs if possible.  And if a particular exercise hurts, discontinue it.
  • Make exercising an enjoyable experience.  Remember, the idea is to include range-of-motion, strengthening and endurance exercises in your daily routine.  So besides the option of working out, you can include various activities like weekly nature walks, dance classes, pool activities and such like.  You’ll get a lot more exercise in, make new friends and generally have a lot of fun.
  • Be active.  You can join a public library and borrow exercise books, DVDs, videos or cassettes.  You can also indulge in activities like cleaning your windows, washing your car, bathing your pet, cleaning your house…..all normal every-day stuff but great ways of getting your exercising done and keeping fit.
  • Ensure you get sufficient rest and have a positive mental attitude.

Hope this article will provide you information about exercise for all level.



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