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Exercise key for those with arthritis

March 19, 2012

Auglaize County Medical Director Dr. Juan Torres

The county’s top medical professional espouses a very simple idea, but one that can make all the difference — exercise with arthritis.

Auglaize County Medical Director Dr. Juan Torres said while exercise is important to a wide variety of people for just as many reasons, it’s especially important to the 50 million suffering from arthritis, inflammation of joints, which causes pain, swelling, stiffness and limited movement.

Approximately 50 million people in the United States suffer from arthritis, with 21 million of those having limited movement in their daily lives, Torres said.

“Because of the pain, they are afraid to do exercise, but it actually makes their condition worse,” Torres said. “They are afraid if they move their joints they will get injured, but moving the joints is recommended.

“Several studies have proven they need to shake it, move it or do something,” he said. “God gave us two legs, we need to use them.”

Torres said moderate to low intensity exercises have been shown to improve not only pain, but moods, because of the release of endorphins. It also improves quality of life.

Establishing a regular routine that is done for some time even limits the effects of arthritis, Torres said.

He recommended aiming for 2 1/2 hours a week, or approximately 3 days, of aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises, such as light weight calisthenics. Balancing exercises are particularly helpful for those with arthritis.

“Participate in groups, help each other,” Torres said.

He said walking is one of the best exercises people with arthritis can do as it’s low impact and not too hard on the joints. In the winter, walking can be done on a treadmill or by doing laps inside a large building and in warmer weather walking can be enjoyable outside.

He said those with balance problems should stand behind a chair and even those in wheelchairs can perform stretching and strengthening exercises.

“Any activity is better than none,” Torres said. “Just move. The benefits outweigh the risks. Getting moving will delay the disease. It’s when you don’t use it that you lose it. On the days you don’t feel like doing it, do it anyway.”

With that said however, Torres said those beginning a new program may experience aches and pains during the first two weeks.

“That’s normal,” Torres said. “If the pain lasts longer, can’t be resolved and causes you to wake up at night, stop and consult with your healthcare provider.”

According to the Arthritis Foundation, it used to be thought that those with arthritis shouldn’t exercise, but research has shown it is an essential tool in managing arthritis and reduces joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscle around the joints, and increases flexibility and endurance. It reduces inflammation from arthritis and related conditions and reduces the risk of other chronic conditions.

Exercise also promotes overall health and fitness by providing more energy, better sleep, weight control, decreased depression, and more self-esteem. It also can stave off other health problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends starting an exercise program slow and making it fun. Beginning with flexibility exercises is a good idea to improve range of motion and help improve performance of daily activities.

Once one gets comfortable, he or she can move on to weight training and endurance exercises. Exercise can include anything from walking around the block, taking a yoga class or playing a round of golf.

For those reluctant to start exercise programs because they are in pain, water programs are recommended because in the water, the body’s buoyancy reduces stress on the hips, knees and spine, while building strength and increasing range of motion. Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so it is a great workout without the wear and tear on joints.

A University of Washington’s Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Department report says the stronger muscles and tissues are around joints, the better they will be able to support and protect those joints, even those that are weak and damaged from arthritis. Not exercising causes muscles to become smaller and weaker and bones become more brittle.

Many people with arthritis keep their joints in a bent position because it’s more comfortable, but if the joints stay in one position for too long (without movement) they can become stuck in that position, which can lead to the eventual lose of use of these joints, while exercise moves these joints and helps keep them as flexible as possible.

University of Washington staff members also recommend exercise be done at times of the least pain and stiffness, when not tired, and when arthritis medication is having the most effect.

They suggest try exercising at different times of day until one is found that works best and don’t exercise strenuously after eating or before bed. Range of motion exercises in the evening make it easier to get up without stiffness in the morning. Warm up before exercising and wear comfortable shoes and clothes. Cool down and stretch when done exercising.

Stick with plans for 12 weeks, as that’s how long it takes to make a new exercise program a habit, then step up to the next fitness level every 12 weeks.

In addition to an exercise program, treatment for arthritis should include a proper diagnosis, education, medication, proper diet, rest, and heat and cold treatments, according to the University of Washington.

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