7 Reasons You Must Warm Up When Exercising With Arthritis
If you have osteoarthritis, you might think that exercise is going to cause further damage to your joints and so you may be tempted to avoid it. Whilst it may initially sound counterintuitive, exercise is actually one of the best ways to manage your joint pain and improve your mobility and function.
Regular exercise strengthens the muscles around your joints so they can help support you better. It may also control swelling and pain around the joints. Exercise is also very beneficial for your mental health; it can reduce stress, improve sleep and helps you keep to a healthy weight (which in turn can reduce stress on your joints, particularly knees and hips).
Whilst the benefits generally outweigh the risks when it comes to exercising with arthritis, it is important to take care of your body. It’s also important to talk to your doctor, physiotherapist or other professional about your specific circumstances and what types of exercises may be best for you.
Once you feel comfortable with your exercise plan, don’t just jump straight in. If you have arthritis, you should spend around 10-15 minutes gently warming up to get your blood moving, increase the range of movement in your joints and avoid unnecessary pain and stiffness. Not convinced? Here are seven reasons why you should warm up before exercising when you have arthritis.
1. It increases blood flow to your joints and muscles
Warming up is an activity which helps prepare your body for what it is about to do - whether that’s running, dancing or cleaning the house. Warming up can gently increase your heart rate and body temperature to enhance your performance and decrease risk of injury. Raising your body temperature allows your joints to move more freely, which can help reduce stiffness and risk of injury. Increasing blood flow also brings more oxygen and nutrients to your joints and muscles. This can help to reduce stiffness and inflammation, as well as prepare your joints and muscles for more intense activity. Not only this, but increasing the temperature in your muscles also increases the oxygen supply, which in turn increases the amount of energy you have.
2. It lubricates your joints
Your joints are surrounded by a thick liquid called synovial fluid, which lubricates them and helps the bones move smoothly without rubbing against each other. Synovial fluid is found in all your joints, from your shoulders to your feet. Any physical exercise can stimulate the lubrication of your joints, especially low impact exercises like stretching, where you are increasing flexibility in multiple areas of your body.
3. It improves your range of motion
Your range of motion refers to how far and in what directions you can move your joints and muscles. Arthritis can limit your range of motion when pain and swelling stop you moving in specific directions, which has a negative impact on your mobility and quality of life.
“When you move your stiff joints through their range of motion, it helps to circulate synovial fluid, which provides nutrients and lubrication to the joints,” says certified physical therapist and scientific writer Nelly Darbois. “Additionally, strengthening the muscles around affected joints can improve joint stability and reduce pain.”
When warming up, try to incorporate dynamic stretches where you get your body moving to increase lubrication of the joints and warm up the body to help increase the chances of a safe, productive workout. Unlike static stretches where a pose is held for a period of time to help your body loosen up, dynamic stretches help increase your range of motion before doing anything else. Dynamic stretches include swinging your arms and legs (not at the same time!) up and down.
4. It prevents injuries
Warming up your body before more intensive exercise can help your cardio and respiratory system gradually increase circulation and lubrication, so you don’t go from zero to 100 and put too much strain on your body too quickly. Taking the time to stretch and warm-up before a workout can get you out of the habit of pushing yourself too hard and help you to learn how to take care of and appreciate your body - remember to be aware of how your body feels, move in ways that feel good and take breaks when necessary.
“A proper warm-up gradually increases blood flow to the muscles and joints, making them more flexible and less prone to injury,” says Nelly. “For individuals with arthritis, this step is crucial to prepare the body for the upcoming exercise routine, reducing the risk of strain or exacerbating joint pain.”
5. It enhances your performance
Another benefit of warming up is that it can enhance your performance. Warming up activates the connection between your nerves and muscles, which can make your workout more effective and gets your muscles moving faster. This can help to improve your coordination, balance, speed, strength, and endurance. These factors can help you to exercise more effectively and efficiently, as well as to achieve your fitness goals.
“Exercise for people with arthritis should be personalised and gradual,” says Nelly. “The goal is not to push for high-intensity (e.g. muscle building or weight loss focused) workouts but to focus on exercises that are well-suited to their condition and fitness level. Progress should be gradual, and individuals should always listen to their bodies and avoid overexertion.”
6. It prepares you mentally
Warming up is not only good for your physical health, but also for your mental health. Warming up can get you gently into the flow of exercise, so by the time you’re ready to move onto your main workout you’re feeling mentally prepared and engaged.
“While it's important to pay attention to your body's signals and not push beyond their limits, you should also challenge yourself mentally,” says Nelly. “Many individuals with arthritis can benefit from exercises that provide not only physical but also mental relief. Try to find activities that you enjoy, which can help you stay motivated.”
Warming up, as with any kind of exercise, can be enjoyable. There are different warm up sequences available, and a mix of dynamic and static movements can help increase your mobility and also stretch out and elongate your muscles. You can find different warm up options on Youtube, in work out apps or through an internet search.
7. Don’t forget to cool down!
After you’ve warmed up and completed your workout, don’t just finish abruptly and move onto other things. Cooling down means doing some slow and gentle movements that gradually lower your heart rate and body temperature. This helps to return your blood flow and breathing to normal levels.
“After exercising, a cool-down routine allows your heart rate and blood pressure to gradually return to normal,” says Nelly. “It can also help prevent post-exercise muscle soreness and stiffness. For people with arthritis, a proper cool-down can aid in managing any temporary inflammation that may occur during exercise.”
As you can see, warming up is an important part of exercising with arthritis. It can help you to improve your joint health, prevent injuries, enhance your performance, prepare you mentally, and cool you down. So next time you plan to exercise, make sure you spend at least 10 minutes warming up first.
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