Fight Arthritis With Exercise

October 9, 2010

Persons who have arthritis often avoid exercise for fear of pain or injury or not wanting to make a lifestyle change.

Persons who have arthritis often avoid exercise for fear of pain or injury or not wanting to make a lifestyle change, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), but those who do exercise have less pain, more energy, improved sleep, and better function. That is why, in observance of Healthy Aging Month in September, the ACR is encouraging patients with arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis (OA), to increase their physical activity by trying 1 or more of the major types of exercise.

Performing each type of exercise may have a positive effect in reducing pain that is related to arthritis and other rheumatologic diseases, the ACR noted. In addition, remaining physically active may help patients reduce other health risks, including type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease.

The ACR recommends the following types of exercise:

Flexibility. These exercises help patients maintain or improve flexibility in joints affected by arthritis and the surrounding muscles. Better posture, a reduced risk of injuries, and improved function may be achieved. Range of motion exercises should be performed 5 to 10 times a day. Stretching exercises may be performed at least 3 days a week; each stretch should be held for 30 seconds.

Strengthening. By working muscles, these exercises improve function and help reduce bone loss related to inactivity. For persons with arthritis, performing 1 set of 8 to 10 exercises for the major muscle groups 2 or 3 times a week is recommended; performing 10 to 15 repetitions with less resistance may be more effective for older persons. The resistance or weight should challenge the muscles without increasing joint pain.

Aerobic. These exercises include activities that use the large muscles of the body in a repetitive and rhythmic manner; performing them improves heart, lung, and muscle function. For persons with arthritis, aerobic exercise is beneficial for weight control and improving mood, sleep, and general health. Safe forms include walking, aerobic dance, aquatic exercise, bicycling, and exercising on equipment. Current recommendations for aerobic activity are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, preferably spread out over several days.

Body awareness. These exercises include activities to improve posture, balance, joint position sense, coordination, and relaxation. Performing recreational exercises that incorporate elements of body awareness (eg, Tai chi and yoga) may be very useful.

The ACR is partnering with the Arthritis Foundation on its Ad Council campaign, Fight Arthritis Pain, to help persons older than 55 years who have or are at risk for OA discover the simple steps that can help them decrease the pain and disability of OA and improve their quality of life. Persons with arthritis also are encouraged to discuss their exercise programs and concerns with their rheumatologist and other health professionals.

For more information about the ACR and its exercise recommendations, visit http://www.rheumatology.org. Or, contact the organization at ACR, 2200 Lake Boulevard NE, Atlanta, GA 30319-5312; telephone: (404) 633-3777; fax: (404) 633-1870. For more information about the Ad Council’s Fight Arthritis Pain campaign, visit http://www.fightarthritispain.org.