Exercise therapy is a cornerstone in the treatment of arthritic conditions and more healthcare providers are encouraging arthritis sufferers to move their bodies more. The key is to do it safely. if you don’t move, your muscles will waste away just as if you never used them at all. But if you have joint pain, it might be the last thing you want to do. It’s easy to get trapped in a sedentary lifestyle when you have joint discomfort.
Despite the inconveniences and challenges of getting started, regular workouts are an effective option for your health and your arthritis symptoms. Let’s look at some ways, backed by science, that exercise helps relieve arthritis symptoms and improve quality of life if you have arthritis.
Exercise Reduces Pain and Joint Stiffness
Walking is one of the most basic exercises, but it still has benefits for joint health. Plus, unlike running or jumping, it’s a low-impact form of exercise. In a study of people with arthritis, those who walked for at least 10 minutes three times per week had less pain and stiffness than those who did not exercise.
The results of this study are no surprise! Have you ever noticed how stiff you feel in the morning or after you sit for a long time? Once you get up and move around, you feel better. Movement gets the blood flowing to your muscles and makes them pliable, so they’re more flexible and you can get around easier.
How does exercise make joints less stiff? Synovial fluid provides a natural cushion between two bones, and exercise helps joints make more of it. A lubricant and a shock absorber, synovial fluid keeps your joints moving fluidly and pain-free. Synovial fluid also contains beneficial proteins and other molecules that help keep your cartilage strong.
If you don’t move around, your joints can develop a less healthy environment with too little synovial fluid. Exercise also reduces inflammation, which is good for people with arthritis and beneficial for health overall.
Natural Pain Relief
According to Hareth Madhoun, DO, a rheumatologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Ohio, exercise helps reduce pain and improve joint function. If you have achy joints, the best form of exercise are low-impact workouts, like cycling, swimming, or walking. These less jarring workouts where one foot is always on the ground are easier on your joints.
However, you also need strength training. Strengthening the muscles that support your joints can also improve arthritis symptoms. By building muscle, you give your joints a stronger outer casing that helps stabilize the joint and give it added support and protection.
As mentioned, exercise reduces inflammation and that helps with pain control. Plus, aerobic exercise boosts the release of natural chemical called endorphins that help subdue pain. Endorphins are one possible explanation for the “high” that runners get, but these chemicals also act as pain killers. They block pain messages before they reach the main conscious areas of the brain and cause a reduction in the sensation of pain.
Some types of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, cause fatigue. Other than joint pain, fatigue is one of the biggest complains rheumatoid arthritis sufferers complain of and it makes it hard to do their daily activities. Exercise is one of the best energy boosters if you do it in moderation. Working your muscles increases blood flow to your brain and all the tissues in your body. Afterward, you feel more alert and energetic. Be sure to get enough sleep though. There’s no substitute for the restorative benefits of sleep.
Exercise also helps improve balance and this lowers the risk of falls. That’s important! If you have significant arthritis, you may be at higher risk of falling because of joint pain, problems with posture, and reduced muscle strength and joint function. Exercise helps you to improve balance, which means, for example, you can lift your feet higher when you walk and that helps upgrade your physical fitness level. Better balance makes everything you do safer.
Many people with arthritis experience sleep problems because of joint discomfort. It may be hard to fall asleep. You also might wake up a lot throughout the night or not sleep well because of pain and stiffness. Exercise can improve your sleep in many ways. A good night’s sleep reduces stress, anxiety, and depression which can all influence your ability to sleep well. Plus, physical activity boosts the release of melatonin, a hormone that helps control your body’s internal clock and makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Melatonin helps set your body’s internal biological clock and circadian rhythms that are so important for overall health.
The Bottom Line
If you have arthritis, you are probably worried about exercising and how that will affect your joints. While some people find their joints hurt after exercise, others find that physical activity eases their arthritis symptoms. The key is to find the right activity for you (and one that doesn’t cause pain in your joints).
Walking is a great place to start, just remember to take it slow at first. Try to start with a 5-minute walk and work your way up to at least 20 minutes a day. You can also focus on other forms of low-impact exercise that boosts your heart rate such as cycling, circuit training, step workouts, swimming, and yoga. Make sure you’re doing some activity that works your muscles against resistance too.
You also need strength training to prevent muscle loss. If you have arthritis, focus on using the best form possible to avoid aggravating your joint symptoms or injuring yourself. Strength training strengthens the muscle that protect your joints and also helps with balance, strength, and power to lower your risk of falling.
Regardless of what you do, listen to your body and adjust your activity level based on how your joints feel. With a few modifications to your exercise routine, you can still meet your weight loss and fitness goals while keeping your joints safe. You will likely discover exercise improves your joints pain rather than worsens it.
- “Exercising with arthritis: Improve your joint pain and ….”.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971.
- “Physical Activity for Arthritis | CDC.” cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/physical-activity-overview.html.
- “Rheumatoid arthritis and exercise – Mayo Clinic.” 31 Jul. 2020, mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/in-depth/rheumatoid-arthritis-exercise/art-20096222.
- “Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program Description ….” cdc.gov/arthritis/interventions/programs/afep.htm.
- com. “7 Exercises to Help Relieve Joint Pain”
- “A resistance exercise program improves functional capacity ….” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29185133/.
- “How do exercise and arthritis fit together? – Mayo Clinic.” 01 Dec. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971.
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