Written by Susan Ashby
Arthritis is not an unusual diagnosis as we age. On the one hand, it is good to know exactly why your hands and fingers ache after gardening, your knees hurt or are stiff when you get up in the morning, or your hips ache after walking in the mall. On the other hand, you have arthritis! So, now what? The tendency is to cut back on activities that are now uncomfortable and eliminate any physical fitness activities. No one wants to be in pain, and it seems like the best course of action is to pamper your joints and minimize your activities.
The exact opposite is true. Exercise will strengthen the muscles which support your joints and take the pressure off of those joints. Exercise helps lubricate those joints and ease the pain associated with arthritis. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormones, contributing to a sense of well-being. Exercise will help you maintain and even improve your range of motion, which contributes to your active lifestyle and your ability to remain independent.
In addition to the benefits listed above, the cardiovascular impact of exercise cannot be overestimated. If you are currently overweight, that is putting additional strain on your joints. Think about carrying a five pound bag of flour around all day. By the end of the day, that five pounds will feel more like twenty-five or more. In other words, even a little weight loss can have a significant positive impact.
So, how do you start? First, always check with your physician before you start any new program. Once you have an OK from your doctor, start with a plan. What time of day do you feel best? If you are stiff and sore when you start your day, but feel better after you have moved around and “loosened up,” maybe your workout routine should be scheduled for the afternoon. If you get increasingly stiff, and ache after going all day, morning might be a better time for you to work out. You will be more motivated if you feel your best, not your worst when you want to work out. Schedule your at-home senior care for that time of day, so they can support your efforts.
One of the most important things you can do is to get attuned to what your body is telling you. You need to recognize the difference between muscle ache and joint pain. Muscle ache is a part of working out and is acceptable as long as it doesn’t get worse than a two on a one-to-ten scale. If your pain is higher than a two or it lasts longer than a day or two after exercising, you are probably overdoing it, and you need to either shorten the length of time you are working out or decrease the difficulty of your workout.
If you are experiencing sharp pain, it could be an indication of injury or too much stress on that particular joint. Stop that exercise and rest that part of your body. And, as always, talk to your doctor if anything concerning happens when you exercise.
With arthritis, the best exercise is low impact. So, rather than running, choose walking. Exercise in water will allow the buoyancy of the water to support your body weight. This is especially helpful for an overweight person with arthritis.
If you are lucky enough to have a backyard pool, take advantage of the pool for some of your routines. Alternate walking or biking with swimming. It will help to keep you from getting bored if you have several options each day. The goal is to spend 30 minutes, five days a week. Remember, the 30 minutes don’t have to be at the same time. Take your dog for a 10-minute walk in the morning and another ten minutes at night. Take a ten-minute walk during your lunch break. Park your car as far from the mall as possible when running errands. All of these little time slots add up, and it might be better if you have a busy schedule.
Don’t forget your upper body. Your shoulder joints are especially important for reaching and lifting. You need to have a good range of motion both in front of your body and behind your back. A good test is to reach over your shoulder with one arm and up from the waist with the other arm and you should be able to touch fingers behind your back.
You can work out at home and spend very minimal money. Walking is free; however, it is a good investment to purchase a pair of walking shoes with good support. This will prevent injury and allow you to walk with good balance and comfort. You don’t have to buy workout clothing. Comfortable clothing that stretches is perfectly fine.
You may want to upgrade if you are working out longer and build up to a sweat, or if you are using equipment that your clothes could possibly catch on. Of course, wearing workout clothes that wick the perspiration from your body may be a goal once you establish an exercise routine. Maybe a new outfit could be your reward for achieving your current goal.
Another hint is to try to find a partner for your workout routine. If you have an at home caregiver, ask them to walk with you. Statistically, you will be more likely to continue with your routine if you have someone else involved. You can motivate each other to continue with your program. Plus, it is always more fun to walk with someone. Take turns deciding where you will walk each day. The time goes fast if you are walking in a botanical garden, around a lake shore, or on a groomed trail in the woods.
There is a lot of help out there if you want a more structured exercise routine. There are online videos as well as DVDs. Check your local YMCA or senior center for classes geared to people with arthritis. Some fitness centers have fitness instructors who have specialized in people with arthritis. There are apps for your phone, as well as wristbands that count how many steps you take each day.
Whatever you decide, just take that first step to a healthier, more-fit you.
Susan Ashby joined the Superior Senior Care team in July of 2014 as a Community Relations Manager. With over 27 years of experience in geriatric health, Susan brings a wealth of knowledge and insight to Superior Senior Care and plays an integral part in connecting consumers and communities with resources for independent living. Superior Senior Care is a home care agency located in Arkansas; they can be found online at www.SuperiorSeniorCare.com.