When people have arthritis it often hurts to move, so many people with arthritis limit their movement. But inactivity can be crippling -- literally -- for people with any form of this ubiquitous disease.
Whereas a generation or so ago, people with arthritis were sent to bed in an effort to "save their joints." Mitchell W. Krucoff, MD discusses how exercise can help cure and prevent common ailments such as arthritis, told me scientific evidence now refutes that. "Study after study has shown that people with arthritis who exercise regularly report less pain and joint swelling, improved functioning and increased strength, endurance and flexibility -- without harming their joints," he says.
The psychological benefits are also dramatic. "The mind and body are not separate," added coauthor and yoga instructor Carol Krucoff. "Exercisers experience less depression and anxiety, and greater feelings of control. When you can't function, it's very depressing. You can't walk stairs, or go places. And for seniors, the idea that they might fall down and not be able to get up is very frightening." Basic exercises give seniors a sense of control and the ability to do the functions of daily living. "They feel better about themselves and feel more capable," said Carol.
This is all well and good, but it still hurts to exercise with achy joints. So, what kinds of exercise do the Krucoffs recommend for arthritis sufferers?
1. Range of motion exercises. These are exercises that help reduce stiffness and keep the joints flexible. Dr. Krucoff explained that range of motion simply means the normal distance your joints can move in all directions. There are five primary movements he recommends...
2. Endurance exercise (aerobics). "Like anyone interested in good health, people with arthritis need to accumulate 30 minutes a day of cardio activity," Dr. Krucoff told me. He added that for people with arthritis it's especially important to strengthen large muscles, such as those of the legs, allowing more gentle and consistent compression of the sore joints, which in turn stimulates the healing process in the cartilage. When choosing an exercise, it's important to pick something that doesn't exacerbate arthritis. Here's what the Krucoffs suggest...
3. Strengthening exercises. The idea of people with arthritis pumping iron is very new. "There are some very good studies showing that weight training for people with arthritis is very helpful," said Carol, "particularly for those with rheumatoid arthritis."
Important: Check with your physician before starting this or any exercise program.
When starting, it's best to begin with light weights or even no weights and work up from there. "Your goal is to work out with a weight you can lift at least 10 times without being too tired," said Carol. "If you can't, it's too heavy."
The number-one cause of nursing home admissions is not heart disease or Alzheimer's disease or diabetes. "It's weak joints and muscles," said Dr. Krucoff. These people can't do the activities of daily life. They can't get up or down, can't go to the bathroom. "You can prevent these problems with a good exercise program," said Dr. Krucoff. "And the time to start is right now." (After you get approval from your treating physician, of course.)
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