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Sweating It Out with Arthritis

By: Darleth Romana-Bantiles, MDSweating It Out with Arthritis

Arthritis seems to be affecting more and more people, even beyond the senior age groups. The Philippine Rheumatology Association (PRA) declared concern over the increasing number of Filipinos suffering from gout, a kind of arthritis that could seriously affect a person’s quality of life. According to Dr. Eric Amante, a PRA official, approximately 1.6 million Filipinos were afflicted with gout in 2015; and the statistics are expected to still increase in the coming years due to unhealthy lifestyle practices.

Excess weight and inactivity are among the top risk factors for arthritis that may be controlled or modified. And as with the majority of the population, exercise may do a lot of good for people with arthritis to address them.

Unfortunately, many people with arthritis are daunted to stay mobile. I have seen patients who would rather stay at home than occasionally walk around shopping for groceries because of the fear that they will feel more pain. It is a big myth that exercise activities and arthritis do not go hand-in-hand. On the contrary, exercise is what will keep people with arthritis moving! People with arthritis will benefit much from the right planned physical workouts. Recent research findings reveal that regular exercise routines improve daily function and sleep, ease pain, and augment the energy of people with inflamed joints.

Even the American College of Rheumatology guidelines indicate that exercise should be one of the pillars of management for osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. The strength of the surrounding muscles that protect the affected joints depend a lot on movement; thus lack of exercise may render the muscles weak and promote further deterioration of the inflamed and stiff joints.

Sweating it out slowly but surely

Low-intensity workouts lasting a few minutes may do a lot of improvement for stiff joints. The key is to not overdo the physical activity. An arthritis patient must gauge his or her personal capacity and work around it. After all, a person with painful joints is not expected to perform laps or routines like Olympic participants.

Warm up activities are also important. Stretching prior to active movement may also help a person with arthritis ease into a workout routine. Range-of-motion activities (e.g. arm raises, shoulders rolls) may be done prior to aerobic or strengthening routines (e.g. weight lifting, walking, cycling).

Doing it slowly also means that a person with arthritis may take breaks if pain is encountered during exercise. As a rule, if the pain is sharper and the joints become red or warmer, something may not be right. Discontinuation of the workout is necessary in this instance and consulting the specialist about it may be necessary. Application of heat may help relax painful muscles and joints. Warm bags or towels and showers may be applied for around 20 minutes before exercise routines. Application of cold compress or ice packs may do well for inflamed joints afterward.

Deciding to do it now

Discussing options with a rheumatologist and consulting one’s instinct are some steps to jumpstart the choice to exercise. A person with arthritis should be comfortable with the physical activity that he or she would start. There are many options that will allow muscle and joint movement without causing burden. Some examples are as follows:

  • Water exercises – Moving in a pool may be easier, as buoyancy decreases weight on the knees and legs while exercising.
  • Stationary exercises – Recumbent or fixed bicycles and elliptical trainers may induce low-impact movements while staying in one place.
  • Body awareness exercises – Yoga, tai-chi, and qigong (a Chinese healing art that involves meditation, exercise, and breathing techniques) are some routines that may improve balance, posture, and coordination while also promoting relaxation.
  • Aerobic exercises – Cardiovascular routines will not only improve mobility but will also do well for one’s overall health by improving weight and energy.

Workouts may start with 15-30 minutes of low impact activity several days a week. Then, if a person with arthritis may be able to carry on a conversation while working out, a gradual step up to moderate-intensity workouts may be done. Duration of the exercise may be as much as 150 minutes, which could be divided into 10-minute chunks that may be easier on the joints.

There may be local groups for arthritis patients who exercise regularly. Aside from having regular physical activity, being able to socialize is an added motivation for some to keep moving especially in the senior age groups.

Arthritis is not a reason to become a hermit or to deprive oneself of enjoyment for the outdoors. With or without it, a regular dose of perspiration (without blood and tears) will go a long way for a better quality of life.

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