Being active helps arthritis

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Vol.1, Issue 8, September 2021

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September is Arthritis Awareness month in Canada. More than 45% of older Canadian adults live with arthritis.1 Arthritis is a major cause of disability with pain, decreased flexibility, and reduced mobility.

Arthritis can be a complex condition and there are various treatment options. But exercise is an essential part of any treatment plan.

Exercise decreases joint swelling and pain. It helps you maintain a healthy weight, which decreases pressure on joints. Research shows that being physically active improves physical function and quality of life for those living with arthritis.2

What type of exercise is best?

Aerobic, strength, and flexibility exercises are all recommended.

  • Aerobic activity helps with heart and overall health, and can help achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Try to build up to 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. This should be spread over most days of the week.
  • Do exercises or activities that strengthen muscle at least twice a week. Stronger muscles can help support and protect the joints affected by arthritis.
  • Do exercises for flexibility daily. Arthritis causes stiffness and pain, making joints less flexible. It helps to do a range of motion exercises every day.

Tips to protect your joints while you exercise

  • Apply heat before you begin. This relaxes your joints and muscles and eases pain. 
  • Move your joints gently at first to warm up.
  • Go slowly and build. Start with low-impact exercise and slow, easy movements. Gradually build up the intensity. Break the activity into short sessions. Extend their length as you get stronger.
  • If you feel pain, take a break. Slow down if you notice swelling or redness in your joints.
  • Ice afterward. Apply ice to your joints for up to 20 minutes, especially after activity that causes joint swelling.

Exercise can be a challenge for those with arthritis but it is important to keep moving!

Resources:

Arthritis Canada
https://arthritis.ca

Active Living Helps with Arthritis:
https://www.activeagingcanada.ca/assets/pdf/active-living-tip-sheets/active-living-helps-arthritis-2017.pdf

Learn about GLAD®, a unique exercise and education program designed for people with osteoarthritis:
https://gladcanada.ca/index.php/for-participants/

Learn about assistive devices. These practical aids help you perform daily tasks more easily, keeping you active while minimizing joint pain and strain:
https://arthritis.ca/treatment/pain-management/assistive-devices-resource

References:

  1. Statistics Canada. Table 13-10-0096-06, Arthritis, by age group.
  2. Kraus et al. PHYSICAL ACTIVITY GUIDELINES ADVISORY COMMITTEE*. Effects of Physical Activity in Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis: A Systematic Umbrella Review. Med Sci Sports Exerc.  Jun;51(6):1324-1339. 2019.

Liza Stathokostas, PhD
Research Director
Active Aging Canada

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