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Alleviating Your Aches & Pains with Activity
One of the best defenses against the growing threat of osteoarthritis as you age is simply to outrun your aches and joint pains. While this strategy doesn’t seem intuitive to everyone, the fact is that a balanced approach to physical activity decreases joint pain, improves joint function and quality of life, improves your mood, and helps manage other chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
It doesn’t have to consume the bulk of your time and attention, either. Just two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity every week, will set up this healthful defense around the perimeter of your body. An easy-to-remember rule of thumb is that one minute of vigorous activity equals two minutes of moderate activity.
What Exercises Should I Do?
Aerobic activity is anything that makes your heart beat faster and your breath a little harder to come by than when you are resting. To start with, some good low-impact activities to pick from include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, gardening, dancing, and group exercises.
If you want to take it up a notch, some examples of moderate-intensity activities are brisk walking, bicycling, swimming, mowing the grass or heavy yard work, doubles tennis, social dancing, conditioning machines, tai chi or yoga, and slower sports like softball, baseball, volleyball, skiing, roller-skating, and ice skating. If you can still talk comfortably but can’t sing, you’re on the right track.
For the more ambitious, a vigorous-intensity activity means finding an activity where you find yourself unable to sing or talk comfortably without stopping. Some of these exercises are inherent in jogging, running, singles tennis, jumping rope, conditioning machines, and sports like soccer, basketball, racquetball, aerobic dance, or spinning classes.
Don’t Pick Just One
To maximize the benefits to your body, choose a variety of different exercises each time you work out, and remember that any physical activity is better than none. Try to exercise in addition to doing your other daily activities; it doesn’t have to be all at once. If you prefer, you can break up your exercise time into smaller increments throughout the day. Moderate, low-impact exercises are the safest, but more health benefits are gained with more exercise. In general, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks.
Also attempt to mix in some muscle strengthening using weights, resistance bands, or calisthenics. An ideal regimen should work all the major muscle groups of the body like legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms, and should be performed during two or more days a week.
If you are at risk of falling, balance exercises are another important component. Some examples of balance exercises are walking backwards, standing on one foot, and tai chi.
Our doctors recommend the SMART approach to an exercise routine:
- Start low and go slow.
- Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, but try to remain active.
- Activities should be joint friendly.
- Recognize safe places and ways to be active.
- Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist about the proper exercises for you.
When the Pain Sets In
When it starts to become painful to exercise, we highly recommend you pay close attention to the feedback your body is giving you and make appropriate adjustments. Some soreness or aching from exercise is normal for the first four to six weeks, and the good news is it should lessen over time.
If you experience pain after establishing an exercise regimen, here are the most common tips: Decrease the duration and frequency of your workout, modify the types of activities you are performing, warm up before and cool down after your workout, exercise at a comfortable pace – one where you should be able to talk, and wear good-fitting, comfortable shoes.
When you get home, it is a good idea to ice any sore joints, which helps reduce swelling and pain. Apply ice wrapped in a towel or use a cold pack on the painful area for no more than 20 minutes, and do that three to four times per day.
Any joint pain that lasts longer than 48 hours means you need to take it easier next time you work out. That pain may be telling you that you’ve overstressed your joints, muscles, or tendons, and working through it may lead to injury or damage.
Call your doctor if the pain escalates to any of these warning signs: Pain becomes sharp, stabbing, or constant; causes limping; lasts more than two hours or worsens at night; is not relieved by rest, medications, or hot or cold packs; the joint feels hot; or if you observe large increases in swelling, redness, or warmth.
In the end, a balanced and consistent exercise plan is one of the most beneficial treatments for your progressing osteoarthritis condition. Plan a little exercise into your daily life and outrun your aches and joint pains.
“Osteoarthritis: Exercising With Arthritis.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web.
“Physical Activity and Arthritis Overview.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ed. Byron Breedlove. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Oct. 2013. Web.