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Exercising to Beat Arthritis Pain

Aug 17, 2007
Exercise is an essential tool in managing arthritis. It not only reduces joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscle around the joints, and increases flexibility and endurance, but gives you more energy, helps you sleep better, control your weight, and just makes you feel better.

The important thing to remember when starting a new exercise routine is to start slowly, very slowly. Flexibility (or stretching) exercises are a great way to improve range of motion. When your body allows, weight training and endurance exercises such as bicycling are also helpful.

For those with severe arthritis pain, there are a number of water exercise programs available, which uses the buoyancy of the water to reduce the stress on the hips, knees, and spine. It is not necessary to be a swimmer in order to participate in a water exercise program.

Choosing an exercise program that you can handle, and enjoy, is very important. Think about the things you like to do and then check with your doctor or therapist to make sure it is alright to start and how to make it the most beneficial for decreasing fatigue and strengthening muscles and joints, as well as increasing flexibility.

No matter what you decide to try, remember to incorporate the following into your daily exercise routine:

-Flexibility (stretching) exercises to slowly increase your range of motion
-Resistance Training to help strengthen muscles and joints
-Cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise to increase circulation and blood flow and strengthen your heart.

This may sound like a lot, especially when it's difficult to handle simple daily tasks -- but if you strive to incorporate it into your daily routine, you'll find that it will get easier as time goes by.

Flexibility (Stretching, Range-of-Motion) Exercises:
Daily gentle stretching exercises are the most important part of your exercise regiment since they will protect your joints by reducing the risk of joint injury, help you warm-up for more strenuous exercise by getting your body moving, and help you relax and release body tension. Tai Chai and Yoga are especially useful for easing those stiff joints in the morning. Your goal should be to work up to 15 minutes of flexibility exercises per day. Once you can do 15 continuous minutes, you should be able to add strengthening and aerobic exercises to your daily routine.

Strengthening (Resistance) Exercises:
When you have arthritis, you need strong muscles to lessen the stress on your joints. Strengthening exercises can help build your muscles so they can absorb shock and protect your joints from injury. Using weight makes your muscles work harder, and helps them get stronger.

There are two types of strengthening exercises: isometric (which tightens the muscles moving the joint without stressing the joint) and isotonic (which strengthen the muscles by moving the joint). Strengthening exercises should be done every other day after warming up with some flexibility exercises.

Cardiovascular (Aerobic) Exercises:
Cardiovascular (aerobic or endurance) exercise is any physical activity that uses the large muscles of the body in rhythmic, continuous motions. This includes walking, dancing, swimming and bicycling, and others. The purpose of these exercises is to make your heart, lungs, blood vessels and muscles work more efficiently. They also can result in improved endurance, stronger bones, improved sleep, controlled weight and reduced stress, depression and anxiety.

Try to include aerobic activity in your fitness program three to four times each week, with a goal of working in your target heart rate for 30 minutes each session.

If you find it difficult to get yourself moving, or just don't know what exercises are best for battling your arthritis, contact your local arthritis foundation for exercise programs in your area.
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