About 30% of Malaysians over 65 years old suffer from osteoarthritis, and that number is steadily increasing as the population ages.
Fortunately, we have gained a better understanding of how arthritis causes damage and pain, and how to maximise the quality and enjoyment of life for people with the disease.
A regular exercise programme can be an important component of managing arthritis, provided the exercise programme is tailored to your needs and abilities, and is combined with an appropriate amount of rest and recovery.
How does exercise help arthritis?
Exercise helps relieve and prevent many of the problems associated with arthritis, providing a range of benefits such as:
- strengthening muscles and bones
- increasing flexibility and stamina
- improved sense of well-being and positive attitude
- decreased pain
- maintaining and increasing joint movement
- increasing heart and lung fitness
- improved posture
- controlling weight, which reduces stress on the joints
- improved sleep patterns
What types of exercise are best?
The three types of exercise that offer specific benefits to arthritis sufferers include stretching, resistance training and cardiovascular exercise.
Flexibility helps prevent injury, increases your joint flexibility and range of motion, promotes relaxation, improves performance and posture, reduces stress and keeps your body feeling loose and agile. Try to stretch your joints gently through their full range of motion each day, even during flare-ups. Ease into your stretches slowly and smoothly – do not bounce or use jerky movements. Pay special attention to joints that are stiff, as they need more exercise.
Resistance training (lifting weights) increases muscle tone and strength, which then help to bear weight, to move objects, and to maintain strong, stable joints. This type of exercise should be avoided during acute phases of the disease.
Endurance exercises such as walking, swimming, cycling and rowing improve heart and lung function" as well as general stamina. They also help to reduce body fat, which may help to lower body weight and relieve pain. While endurance exercises can reduce pain and help maintain joint flexibility, they should not be carried out during acute phases of the disease.
You may also want to include low impact recreational activities such as gardening, yoga, golf, cycling and dancing. If your arthritis is severe, look to perform exercises in a hydrotherapy pool, where the buoyancy of the water supports your weight. It allows your body to move a little more easily, and the warm water is soothing on tight muscles and joints. But be sure to discuss your activity level and preferences with your physician.
Finding a balance between rest and activity
It is also important to balance your exercise with recovery time. Rest is often needed to settle an inflamed joint or a general flare-up, but too much rest will weaken the muscles and increase stiffness. If joints are inflamed, rest is needed, but if joints are stiff, exercise is likely to be beneficial. Do not continue with an exercise that causes severe pain. Rest does not always mean lying down either - it can also mean changing your posture, or doing a different activity.