7 Ways To Get & Keep Walking With Osteoarthritis – Flexiseq

7 Ways To Get & Keep Walking With Osteoarthritis

Walking is a free, low impact exercise that you can do almost anywhere. Walking is great for anyone who wants to improve their fitness, clear their head and get out in nature - and it’s especially important for people with arthritis because it helps gently strengthen the muscles, which can take pressure off the joints.

“Walking strengthens bones and muscles, allowing the body to maintain a certain standard of fitness that helps in everyday life,” says Dr. Thomas Pontinen (MD), a certified physician and pain expert. “Walking exercises most of the body including the core, hamstrings, quads, calves, ankles, and glutes, which all contribute to improved posture, mobility, fitness, and longevity.”

It can be hard to feel motivated to get walking, especially if you’re in pain and the weather isn’t particularly cheerful. Here are some of our tips for getting walking when you have osteoarthritis - and how to keep it up.

1. Motivate yourself by learning the health benefits of walking

The NHS recommends a brisk, 10 minute walk for its health benefits. Walking can help you lose weight and improve your fitness, and it can also be a great way to take in the world around you for more mindfulness and less stress.

“Walking is an amazing activity that can help improve your strength, endurance and fitness, without stressing achy joints,” says Dr. Milica McDowell, a Doctor of Physical Therapy and an Exercise Physiologist with over 20 years of experience. “Walking's rhythmic nature helps to keep your joints lubricated and reduces stiffness, so it's an amazing addition to your daily routine. When working with individuals with painful joints or osteoarthritis, I often suggest they focus on incorporating a walking practice that is focused on good form, neutral posture and a cadence (or speed) that is comfortable for you. Walking has literally hundreds of health benefits, including strengthening your bones, toning your muscles, enhancing gut health and boosting your mood.”

Walking also has some health benefits that are particularly advantageous for people living with osteoarthritis.  “Walking facilitates the release of synovial fluid in the joints,” says  Dr. Thomas Pontinen.  “Walking puts pressure on the cartilage, triggering increased circulation of synovial fluid within the joints. Synovial fluids decrease friction in the joints and, in turn, can help decrease arthritic pain. Walking also promotes blood flow in the body, including blood flow to tissues affected by arthritis. With improved blood flow, the inflammation and swelling caused by arthritis are decreased. As the inflammation subsides, stiffness is also alleviated, which is a major source of pain and frustration for arthritis patients.”

2. Start slow and steady

When working towards any skill, it’s important to focus on small, achievable goals where you can see your progress without putting too much pressure on yourself, which can be disheartening and stressful. 

“To be successful in increasing your walking practice, I suggest you start small and baseline your current walking levels,” says Dr. Milica McDowell. “If you want to increase your walking duration, you need to first know where you are today. In the medical community we call this a baseline; the starting point of where you are at before you embark on the increase. If you have any sort of smart device (iPhone, Apple watch, etc), you can take a peek at your current daily walking amount. This is your baseline. Let's say your baseline averages 4000 steps per day. The best current science suggests that an increase of 10% per week is appropriate for those with joint pain or arthritis conditions, so if you are currently walking 4000 a day, try 4400 a day for a week and evaluate how you feel!”

3. Keep things interesting

The great thing about walking is that you can do it almost anywhere, and there is loads of different terrain to explore. England is full of forests, countryside, river walks, beaches, canals, historic trails, cities, towns and industrial sightseeing. While having a set routine can be helpful for creating a lasting habit, you don’t have to do the same walk every day if you don’t want to - and you might find that you keep going for longer when you’re in a new environment and feel like you’re on an adventure!

“To keep it interesting when you are trying to increase the amount of walking in your life, you can vary your walk location and duration,” says Dr Milica.  “A shorter, more intense walk can create a cardiovascular health benefit and is a great way to still squeeze in a walk if you are pinched for time. Changing your location, testing out a new trail, walking a familiar route on the opposite of the street, or driving to a new area of town are all ways to increase the variability and fun when increasing your walking practice.”

4. Add walking into your regular routine

While going for a walk can be a lot of fun and a great way to spend part of your day, you can also incorporate walking into your regular life. If you feel like you don’t have a lot of time, this can help you get walking more without feeling like you’re ‘wasting time’ (although walking is never a waste of time in our opinion!).  Why not get off a stop early when going home, or walk to the shops instead of driving or getting the bus? How about walking to a friend’s house or adding a walk in between errands?

5. Buddy up

Walking with a friend can really help motivate you and make your walk more enjoyable - and the good news is your friend doesn’t have to be human! 

“A pal or a pet is a great motivator and accountability buddy when starting a walking practice,” says Dr Milica. “When you incorporate walking with a friend, it nearly doubles the likelihood you'll complete the walk.” Inviting a friend can also help you strengthen your social ties, improve your friendships and help you discover new places that you might not think to go to alone.

6. Embrace the rain

Walking in the rain might not immediately seem like a good idea, but as long as you’ve got sturdy footwear, you’re wearing non-slip shoes and you’ve brought your umbrella or raincoat, you might be surprised to find that walking in the rain is actually good for you! 

When it rains, molecules are released into the air. Some of these molecules become negatively charged ions, and breathing them in is thought to relieve stress, boost our mood and even increase energy. Petrichor (the earthy, sweet smell of fresh rain) also contains a chemical called geosmin, which may have a calming effect. The air is also cleaner after it rains as the rain washes the atmosphere, so breathing it in can be beneficial to your health. Walking in the rain also gives you a different perspective on the outdoors, and it can be a wonderful sensory adventure. However, falls are more likely on slippery surfaces, so make sure you’re wearing appropriate footwear and that you wrap up warm.

7. Wear the right shoes

It’s important that your feet are comfortable and supported during your walk, and the way to make sure that is happening is by checking that you’re wearing the right footwear. 

“Functional shoes are a key to being successful with a walking program,” says Dr Milica.  “A shoe is functional if it meets the followWear the right shoesing two criteria. Is it shaped like your foot? Shoes that are excessively tapered or even pointy can make it hard for your foot to work properly. Look at the sole of the shoe; if it is shaped like your foot, that's a great litmus test. Next, does the shoe have a wider toe box? Your toes don't like being squished against one another, so the wiggle test is key. When wearing the shoe, can you wiggle EVERY toe? If this is a yes, your shoe is more ‘functional’.”

Do you have any tips for getting and keeping up with your walking when you have osteoarthritis? Let us know on Facebook!

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