Exercise Even with Arthritis

Laura_Brieser-SmithMore than 40 million Americans suffer from arthritis pain.  Often times that pain makes it difficult (and unappealing) to do exercise.  In fact, you may have been told not to exercise for fear that physical exertion could make arthritis worse.  We now know that exercise is an indispensable part of arthritis treatment.  In order to understand why this is, let us first take a look at what causes arthritis.

Every joint needs to have the proper cushioning to prevent the bones from rubbing together.  This cushioning comes partially from a sponge-like substance called cartilage.  Over time the cartilage that protects the ends of bones deteriorates due to wear and tear.  As cartilage deteriorates it becomes less springy and it contains less water.  Once damaged, our body’s ability to repair cartilage is limited due to there being no blood supply to bring nutrients.  Instead nutrients enter cartilage from surrounding cells.  This is where exercise can help!  Exercise stimulates the flow of fluid in and out of cartilage which keeps cartilage moist and nourished.  An additional benefit of exercise is building muscle.  Muscle is the most important protector of joints.  In fact, cartilage only absorbs shock that gets past muscles.

Admittedly, there are some types of exercise that are probably not the best for arthritic joints.  Any movement that causes  pain should be avoided or modified.   Other exercises to avoid are anything that would produce a great deal of force, such as jumping or high impact aerobics, and exercises done on a hard surface.  So what is best for joints?  While the possibilities of what you can do to exercise your joints are endless, the one type of  exercises that is an absolute must is strength training.  Whether you choose dumbbells or machines, be sure that you are doing strength training exercises at least twice a week at an intensity that will promote muscle building.  Lift too light of a weight or work with too little resistance and your exercise program will be less effective in helping to relieve your arthritis pain.  At the proper intensity, you should feel the weight is moderately difficult to lift, but well within your capability.  By your final repetition you should feel like you need to stop and rest in order to be able to continue.   Stretching, yoga, Pilates and tai chi are often good additions to your exercise program, as they promote healthy cartilage with movements that are gentle on your joints.  Water activities (swimming, water aerobics, or water walking) are often more comfortable than land activities since the water provides support and lessens impact on arthritic joints.


Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices.  She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign@aol.com.

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