Exercise is an important ingredient of health for everyone, including those afflicted with arthritis. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the benefits of exercise for those with arthritis include:
- stronger muscles
- less joint stiffness
- protection against osteoporosis (important if taking glucocorticoid drugs)
- weight control
- mood improvement
- less fatigue
- stress reduction
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has written a complete guide to beginning an exercise program; Questions and Answers About Arthritis and Exercise which is now available as a free online publication.
NIAMS listed the following tips for beginning an exercise program:
- Discuss exercise plans with a doctor.
- Start with supervision from a physical therapist or qualified athletic trainer.
- Apply heat to sore joints (optional).
- Stretch and warm up with range-of-motion exercises.
- Start strengthening exercises slowly with light weights.
- Progress slowly.
- Use cold packs after exercising (optional).
- Include aerobic exercise.
- Take part in range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise prior to participation in appropriate recreational exercise. Fewer injuries to arthritic joints occur during recreational exercise if it is preceded by range-of-motion, strengthening, and aerobic exercise.
- Reduce exercise volume if joints become painful, inflamed, or red. Work with a doctor to find the cause of the pain, and then eliminate it.
- Choose an enjoyable exercise program and make it a habit.
Many materials outlining specific exercise programs are available from the Arthritis Foundation for free or small fees. This is a partial list of some of the resources available:
Before beginning any exercise program, meet with a doctor to discuss which fitness options are most appropriate. A physical therapist may be the most qualified professional to help begin an exercise program. Often, community recreation centers, hospitals, and YMCA facilities offer special programs for people with arthritis. These programs are led by specially-trained fitness professionals with an understanding of arthritis.
Water Exercise: Pools, Spas and Arthritis (booklet)
Exercise and Your Arthritis (booklet)
Walking and Arthritis (booklet)
Walk With Ease (audio tape)