One thing I know to be true…the early morning swimmers are healthy, happy people. I had this thought last week, as I joined our normal gang of early morning swimmers. Not just the young, race training swimmers. I’m specifically referring to the 60+ (in some cases 80+) senior men and women who are there almost every day. Each of them has their own routines, and their own stories. From surgeries, to accidents, and almost all who have arthritis.
Arthritis is usually the cause of joint stiffness from inflammation. This leads to discomfort, pain, and less than great movement and dexterity, especially in the affected areas. This reduced mobility becomes a self-fulfilling, or rather self-reinforcing pattern for arthritis sufferers. I mean, it doesn’t feel like something you want to do – get out of bed and head to the pool, or put on your walking shoes, or yoga pants. But that’s exactly what the body needs!
You may be familiar with the axiom shared by so many physical therapist – “motion is lotion.” It’s true. The more you move, the less discomfort and the improvement in mobility. The best way to be able to touch your toes, for example, is to stretch every day toward that end goal. You will make progress toward being able to do that if you work at it.
So many people with arthritis are hesitant to exercise because they believe it will exacerbate their symptoms. However, research has shown that exercise is actually one of the best things you can do for arthritis. In this blog post, we'll explore why exercise is so important for people with arthritis, as well as some tips for getting started.
The Benefits of Exercise for Arthritis
There are many benefits to exercising when you have arthritis. Here are just a few:
Reduces Pain and Stiffness
One of the most noticeable benefits of exercise for arthritis is that it can help reduce pain and stiffness in the joints. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers. Additionally, exercise helps to lubricate the joints, which can reduce stiffness and improve mobility.
Improves Strength and Flexibility
Arthritis can cause muscles to weaken and joints to become less flexible. Exercise can help counteract this by strengthening muscles and improving flexibility. This, in turn, can help reduce the risk of falls and other injuries. I experienced this recently, when I realized that the muscle strength of my core and arms, helped me catch myself after a stumble. Exercising and building muscle strength is a bit like making sure you have air in your spare wheel. You never know when you’re going to need it!
Helps with Weight Management
Being overweight or obese can put extra strain on the joints, which can exacerbate arthritis symptoms. Exercise can help with weight management, which can reduce this strain and improve overall joint health. Plus, when you have increased endorphins in your system, you feel good about yourself. When you feel good about yourself, you tend to eat the right things!
Improves Mood and Mental Health
Living with a chronic condition like arthritis can be challenging, both physically and mentally. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and mental health, which can help reduce stress and anxiety associated with arthritis. Unlike giving in to the body’s desire to “stay in bed” or “eat that chocolate” – getting moving gives much better, and longer lasting, results.
Types of Exercise for Arthritis
There are many different types of exercise that are beneficial for people with arthritis. Here are a few examples:
Low-Impact Aerobic Exercise
Low-impact aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, is a great way to get your heart rate up without putting too much strain on your joints. These types of exercises can help improve cardiovascular health and overall fitness. This is a great article about the benefits of swimming for arthritis sufferers.
Strength training exercises, such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, can help improve muscle strength and reduce joint pain. It's important to start with light weights or resistance and gradually increase as you build strength. Consider buying a set of various strengths of bands and use them daily. Sports Illustrated published a great resource if this I something you’re ready to try. You will be amazed at how quickly your body responds to giving it the right exercise.
Stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and reduce stiffness in the joints. Yoga and Pilates are great options for people with arthritis, as they incorporate both stretching and strength training. Pilates is a powerful support resource, especially if you already have injuries to the spine or other major joints. Most local studios offer affordable programs to get you started.
Tips for Getting Started with Exercise
If you're new to exercise or haven't exercised in a while, it's important to start slowly and gradually increase your activity level. Here are some tips for getting started:
Talk to Your Doctor
Before starting any new exercise program, it's important to talk to your doctor. They can help you determine what types of exercises are safe for you and provide guidance on how to get started.
Start with just a few minutes of exercise per day and gradually increase as you feel comfortable. It's better to start slowly and build up gradually than to overdo it and risk injury. I’m my own worst enemy with this. Thing is, when you feel good, you want to push too hard too soon, and then pay the price. I’ve had to learn (the hard way) when to stop. Preferably before I feel pain or any other sign that I’ve overdone it.
Listen to Your Body
Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. If you experience pain or discomfort, it's important to take a break or modify your activity. Go for lower resistance or weights, and more repetition. If walking, slow down a bit and try to avoid too many hills at first. If swimming, start with what feels most easily achieved and comfortable – gradually increase as you can.
I invested in a few private training lessons, and specifically asked for aqua exercise guidance. Now, 2 years later, I still follow the same routine, because I know it works best for my body.
Find Activities You Enjoy
Exercise doesn't have to be boring or unpleasant. Find activities that you enjoy, whether it's walking in nature, swimming at the local pool, or taking a dance class. For added mental benefit, consider playing upbeat worship music and turn movement into praise for a double dose of joy!
Exercise is an essential part of managing arthritis symptoms and improving quality of life. By reducing pain and stiffness, improving strength and flexibility, helping with weight management, and improving mood and mental health, exercise can make a significant difference to your life, giving you the ability to enjoy a limber life, even with arthritis.
As you decide to Break a Sweat - make sure you also add the natural symptomatic relief of Haraka to your regimen. (Pre-orders now available!)
Here’s to your limber life in motion!