Kittle: Exercising with arthritic pain

Arthritis is a painful disease affecting one in six people.

Among the most common complaints for those battling arthritis pain is it’s emotionally draining, frustrating and it generates feelings of fear and anger.

When you’re in pain, your body can change from stress as muscles become tense, posture can become poor and you don’t sleep well.

Seniors feel fatigue from enduring arthritic pain, and often become  afraid to exercise fearing they’ll do more damage than good.

But all individuals with arthritis should be encouraged to manage their arthritis through self-research and making good decisions to be in the best possible health.

Part of that self-management includes a safe slow progressing and low impact program.

Start with what you can do safely, free of pain.

Throw that old saying, no pain no gain, out the door—it’s very important to realize if you have pain for more than two hours after exercising, you’ve done too much.

There are ways to increase or decrease intensity in an exercise class by changing the speed of the exercise, lightening or increasing resistance.

An appropriate exercise program, whether in the pool or on land, should begin with slow and controlled range of motion exercises to limber and loosen up stiff and achy joints.

This will release what’s called synovial fluid, which acts like a lubricant to the joints.

The strengthening part of the program should involve good posture while activating your core and involve low to moderate intensity.

A good idea is to alternate between upper and lower body exercises to keep from becoming quickly fatigued.

The cardiovascular or aerobic part of your program should always involves low impact activities that don’t place your joints at risk.

The exercise should be somewhat difficult at around 50 to 60 per cent  maximum heart rate. The recommendation is 30 minutes accumulated exercise per day but can be broken up into three sets of 10 minutes.

Another important part of your program should also include balance and core exercises to

The last component in an exercise program should include stretching for flexibility.

Stretches should include all major muscles, be slow and gentle holding 20 to 30 seconds and stretch to tightness but not to pain.

Some examples of low impact exercise options for the arthritic individual can include walking swimming, cycling, low impact aerobic classes, circuit training, Pilates, yoga, tai chi and warm water pool classes

Remember the 4Ps in managing your pain and fatigue

Planning—respect your pain and plan daily activities accordingly

Priorities—if you’re having a bad day be kind to yourself and take some things off your list and do the tasks that are most pertinent.

Pacing—balance work with rest and listen to your body

Posture-whether you’re sitting, standing or walking always tries to be mindful of your posture, keeping your back straight, shoulders down and back and core activated; and don’t forget to breathe!

For more about adopting a good standing posture and sleeping better at night, check out the extended Fitness For Seniors column on the Capital News website,

Five Steps to Good Standing Posture

Did you know that proper posture distributes the work over larger muscle groups, helping to conserve your energy? The right work height promotes good posture and saves energy too.

If you must lift or carry, use proper techniques to make the work easier and safer for your joints and muscles:

• store items you use the most in your home or at work between waist and shoulder height

• use the strongest and largest joints available to do the activity

• avoid staying in one position for a prolonged length of time

• alternate sitting and standing (sitting requires 25 per cent less energy than standing)

Good posture saves energy, even when sitting, particularly when driving a vehicle.

To ease the strain on your body while sitting behind the wheel:

• sit close to the wheel with your knees bent

• on long trips, stop frequently and walk to relieve tension, relax your muscles and prevent excessive stiffness

• a  back support can be helpful in relieving your lower back pain

Try some of these proven strategies that will help you to get a good night’s sleep:

• invest in a mattress that provides firm yet comfortable support

• avoid waterbeds

• everyone has their own unique sleep cycle so think about yours—if sleeping longer and more soundly means going to bed later and waking up later, adjust your schedule to that rhythm if at all possible

• Stick to your schedule—go to bed every night and get up every morning at the same times,  even if at first you don’t sleep very well,  to establish a routine that accommodates your sleep cycle

• if pain is keeping you from falling asleep, try taking a warm bath or shower before going to bed as it should help relax tense muscles and relieve your joint pain

• if pain is waking you during the night, try some relaxation and distraction techniques before bed

• if you’re still waking during the night, ask your doctor to adjust your medication schedule so that your medications’ pain-relieving component kicks in just before you’re ready for sleep

• exercise regularly so that you feel pleasantly tired and relaxed at the end of the day

• try adjusting your sleep environment so that there are no distractions that prevent you from sleeping

Bobbi Kittle is a personal trainer and fitness instructor in Kelowna who specializes in working with seniors.




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