What is Exercise?
Exercise is crucial for people with arthritis and other ailments. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. Of course, when stiff and painful joints are already bogging you down, the thought of walking around the block or swimming a few laps might seem overwhelming.
But you don’t need to run a marathon or swim as fast as an Olympic competitor to help reduce arthritis symptoms. Even moderate exercise can ease your pain and help you maintain a healthy weight. When arthritis threatens to immobilize you, exercise keeps you moving. Not convinced? Read on.
Why exercise is vital
Exercise can help you improve your health and fitness without hurting your joints. With your current treatment program, exercise can:
• Strengthen the muscles around your joints
• Help you maintain bone strength
• Give you more energy to get through the day
• Make it easier to get a good night’s sleep
• Help you control your weight
• Enhance your quality of life
• Improve your balance
Though you might think exercise will aggravate your joint pain and stiffness, that’s not the case. Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff.
That’s because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones. Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints.
Check with your doctor first
If you have a chronic disease — such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma, or back or joint pain — exercise can have important health benefits. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine.
He or she might have advice on what exercises are safe and any precautions you might need to take while exercising.
Find out what you need to know about exercise and chronic disease.
How can exercise improve a chronic condition?
If you have a chronic condition, regular exercise can help you manage symptoms and improve your health.
Aerobic exercise can help improve your heart health and endurance and aid in weight loss. High-intensity interval training is generally safe and effective for most people and can take less time. In high-intensity interval training, you alternate exercising at high levels of intensity and exercising at a less intense level for short periods of time. Even activities such as walking at higher intensities count.
Strength training can improve muscle strength and endurance, make it easier to do daily activities, slow disease-related declines in muscle strength, and provide stability to joints.
Flexibility exercises may help you to have optimal range of motion about your joints, so they can function best, and stability exercises may help reduce the risk of falls.
• Heart disease. Regular exercise can help improve your heart health. Recent studies have shown that interval training is often tolerated well in people with heart disease, and it can produce significant benefits.
• Diabetes. Regular exercise can help insulin more effectively lower your blood sugar level. Physical activity can also help you control your weight and boost your energy.
• Asthma. Often, exercise can help control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
• Back pain. Regular low-impact aerobic activities can increase strength and endurance in your back and improve muscle function. Abdominal and back muscle exercises (core-strengthening exercises) may help reduce symptoms by strengthening the muscles around your spine.
• Arthritis. Exercise can reduce pain, help maintain muscle strength in affected joints and reduce joint stiffness.
What exercises are safe?
Your doctor might recommend specific exercises to reduce pain or build strength. Depending on your condition, you might also need to avoid certain exercises altogether or during flare-ups. In some cases, you might need to consult a physical or occupational therapist before starting to exercise.
If you have low back pain, for example, you might choose low-impact aerobic activities, such as walking and swimming. These types of activities won’t strain or jolt your back.
If you have exercise-induced asthma, be sure to keep an inhaler handy while you exercise.
If you have arthritis, the exercises that are best for you will depend on the type of arthritis and which joints are involved. Work with your octor or a physical therapist to create an exercise plan that will give you the most benefit with the least aggravation on your joints.
How often, how much and at what intensity can I safely exercise?
Before starting an exercise routine, it’s important to talk to your doctor about how long your exercise sessions can be and what level of intensity is safe for you.
In general, try to accumulate about 30 minutes of physical activity a day at least five days a week. For example, try walking briskly for about 30 minutes most days of the week. You can even break it up into 10-minute chunks of time throughout the day.
If you’re not able to do this much activity, do as much as you can. Even an hour a week of physical activity can have benefits.
If you haven’t been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually. Ask your doctor what kind of exercise goals you can safely set for yourself as you progress.
Do I need to take special steps before getting started?
Depending on your condition, your doctor might recommend certain precautions before exercising.
If you have diabetes, for example, keep in mind that physical activity lowers blood sugar. Check your blood sugar level before any activity. If you take insulin or diabetes medications that lower blood sugar, you might need to eat a snack before exercising to help prevent low blood sugar.
If you have arthritis, consider taking a warm shower before you exercise. Heat can relax your joints and muscles and relieve any pain you might have before you begin. Also, be sure to choose shoes that provide shock absorption and stability during exercise.
What kind of discomfort can I expect?
Talk to your doctor about what kind of discomfort you might expect during or after exercise, as well as any tips for minimizing your pain. Find out what type or degree of pain might be normal and what might be a sign of something more serious.
If you have heart disease, for example, signs or symptoms that you should stop exercising include dizziness, unusual shortness of breath, chest pain or an irregular heartbeat.
What else do I need to know?
Starting a regular exercise routine can be tough.
To help you stick with your routine, consider exercising with a friend. You might also ask your doctor to recommend an exercise program for people who have your condition, perhaps through a local hospital, clinic or health club.
To stay motivated, choose activities that are fun, set realistic goals and celebrate your progress.
Share any concerns you might have about your exercise program — from getting started to keeping it up — with your doctor.
Exercise: 7 benefits of regular physical activity
You know exercise is good for you, but do you know how good? From boosting your mood to improving your sex life, find out how exercise can improve your life.
Want to feel better, have more energy and even add years to your life? Just exercise.
The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. Everyone benefits from exercise, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.
Need more convincing to get moving? Check out these seven ways exercise can lead to a happier, healthier you.
1. Exercise controls weight
Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories.
The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn.
Regular trips to the gym are great, but don’t worry if you can’t find a large chunk of time to exercise every day. To reap the benefits of exercise, just get more active throughout your day — take the stairs instead of the elevator or rev up your household chores. Consistency is key.
2. Exercise combats health conditions and diseases
Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent high blood pressure? No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two punch keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Regular exercise helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, depression, a number of types of cancer, arthritis and falls.
3. Exercise improves mood
Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A gym session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.
You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.
4. Exercise boosts energy
Winded by grocery shopping or household chores? Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance.
Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.
5. Exercise promotes better sleep
Struggling to snooze?
Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep. Just don’t exercise too close to bedtime, or you may be too energized to hit the hay.
6. Exercise puts the spark back into your sex life
Do you feel too tired or too out of shape to enjoy physical intimacy? Regular physical activity can improve energy levels and physical appearance, which may boost your sex life.
But there’s even more to it than that. Regular physical activity may enhance arousal for women. And men who exercise regularly are less likely to have problems with erectile dysfunction than are men who don’t exercise.
7. Exercise can be fun … and social!
Exercise and physical activity can be enjoyable. It gives you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy. Physical activity can also help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting.
So, take a dance class, hit the hiking trails or join a soccer team. Find a physical activity you enjoy, and just do it. Bored? Try something new, or do something with friends.
The bottom line on exercise
Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel better, boost your health and have fun. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.
Try to engage in a combination of vigorous and moderate aerobic exercises, such as running, walking or swimming. Squeeze in strength training at least twice per week by lifting free weights, using weight machines or doing body weight exercises.
Space out your activities throughout the week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to ramp up your exercise efforts.
Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you haven’t exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, or you have any concerns.