Did You Know…
May is Arthritis Awareness Month. Approximately 350 million people worldwide have arthritis. In the UK there are around 10 million people living with the disease. Around 15,000 of these are children. Yes, children get arthritis too!
Please note – I am not a medical professional. This post is written based on my own experiences and research. If in doubt about anything, or if you need specific questions answering about your own condition, please see your doctor.
I have recently seen lots of posts across the social media support groups I am in about exercising when you have arthritis. These posts often have a variety of different reasons for looking into this – some people want to lose weight, some want to improve their general fitness, some want to exercise to help their mental health and some have read about the benefits exercise can have on the body when you have arthritis. Yes, for a disease that causes pain and difficulty in being mobile, exercise is actually a great from of therapy for it!
Growing Up With Arthritis
I think being diagnosed as a child was lucky in many respects. Sounds strange I know, but bear with me! My team pioneered the multi-team clinics when I was younger, so I would go to one appointment every month or so (depending on how my condition was behaving) and my whole team would be present – paediatrician, rheumatologist, physio, OT and normally a whole host of students. This was super beneficial as it meant everyone was there to give their input and ideas, they weren’t relying on letters and emails between each clinic and everyone, including me, had an input on my continuing care plan. It is a shame this kind of clinic is not more widespread now, as I am sure it would be more beneficial to patients and be easier for the doctors and health professionals to provide the all round, holistic care they should be aiming for. Anyway, I digress. As a child, I was automatically given weekly physio appointments and due to these, I learnt a lot about the benefits of exercise for my body and also lots of tips and tricks about what is best to try.
One of the keys to exercising with arthritis, especially when flaring, is to keep it low impact. These are exercises which improve your health and fitness while being kinder to your joints. This can include –
- WALKING – This is probably one of the simplest to try. I suggest getting a good pair of supportive trainers if you are venturing outside. To get your heart rate up and burn more calories, try walking faster for either short bursts, or the whole walk if you can manage it. You could also introduce some hill walking, but be careful when going downhill not to slam your feet too hard into the ground, as this will increase the impact on your joints, especially your ankles and knees. I also find having dogs is great for this – they force me to get out and about even if only for a short walk.
- CYCLING – I have recently taken up cycling and am loving it. You can slowly increase your cycle sessions as you become more confident. You should also ensure your bike is in good working order and is the right size for you.
- SWIMMING – One of the best exercises for people to do as it works the whole body and is also low impact. Not only do you work most of your muscles when swimming but you also get a good aerobic workout. Doing your exercises in the water is also more beneficial than doing them at home on a mat for example, as the water provides a certain amount of resistance but also supports your body when you are submerged. Some hospitals offer hydrotherapy sessions where you can go and do physio in a heated pool. Many local pools and gyms also do aqua aerobics classes which you may find useful.
- YOGA/PILATES – I am more of a fan of Pilates but know many people who enjoy yoga as well or instead of. I started attending a Pilates class with a couple of friends and found the steady rhythm easy to stick to. Many of the exercises were also similar to ones I used to do as a child in my PT sessions. There are lots of these kind of workouts which you can follow online but I can also recommend going to an actual class. Speak to the instructor about your health condition – you will often find them very understanding and knowledgeable. Only do as much as you are comfortably able to and don’t ever push yourself too hard as you will cause more damage than good. There were always a couple of the regular exercises I couldn’t do, so I would either sit them out and rest for a minute, or do an alternative exercise I could manage. I also found Pilates very good for my mental health, as you focus on your breathing for a lot of it too.
- DANCING – Not a class or anything nearly as structured. I love nothing more than getting my clean on with my favourite music playing and having a dance session in my own home! Both cleaning and the dancing get my heart pumping. I am kind to my joints (no caterpillars or huge jumps for me) and my body gets a good bout of cardio. I also find it great for my mental health!
- PHYSICAL THERAPY – As an adult you don’t get nearly as much PT as I did when I was child. You can ask your doctor to be referred to a physio and you will generally be given an eight week course. This can still be really useful as the physiotherapist will be able to teach you exercises which you can then continue to do at home, on your own.
I recently attended the Ileostomy Association Information Event in Birmingham and was really inspired by a speech that Sarah Russell gave. Sarah is a Clinical Exercise Specialist and although she mostly talked about exercising when you have an ostomy, she did mention resistance training and I thought it would be god to highlight it in this post.
Sarah recommended that people do a form of resistance training at least once a week (preferably twice). Resistance exercises improve muscle strength which she said is vital to help us as we age. Keeping our muscles as healthy as possible will only benefit our bodies as we grow older, and hep slow the effects that our disease has on them. Again, many of this style of work out can be done at home and there are many exercise routines which you can find online.
I hope you find this post useful. If you would be interested in seeing some at home PT exercises you can do, I could make a video for my YouTube channel with some basic ones to get you started. Please let me know in the comments if you are nterested and I will film it for you! Thank you for reading and I hope this has given you a little more confidence to get started with exercising if you have arthritis,