How To Move SMART With Arthritis – Flexiseq

How To Move SMART With Arthritis

How do you feel when you hear the word ‘exercise’?

We know that exercise may be the last thing you want to do when dealing with an arthritis flare up and the everyday pain that comes from living with this chronic pain condition, but regular exercise can actually reduce arthritis pain over time by ensuring your muscles are strong enough to support your joints, by improving your balance and mobility, and through helping you keep to a healthy weight so there’s less pressure on the joints.

How much exercise should I do?

The NHS recommends adults aged 19 to 64 do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week and spread the activity out across 4 or 5 days, or every day. They also recommend you incorporate strengthening exercises which work all major muscle groups, which are the arms, shoulders, chest, abdomen, back, hips and legs, at least 2 days a week. Where possible, reduce time spent sitting or lying down. If your job and/or lifestyle is fairly sedentary, just getting up and walking around the room every hour can make a difference.

Older adults aged 65 and above are encouraged to be physically active every day, even if it's just light activity, and aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, or a combination of the two. Light activity is anything that isn’t sitting or lying down, so that could be walking around your house, cleaning or just standing up at regular intervals.

The SMART method

If you need some help with moving when you have arthritis, you may find the SMART method helpful.

Start low, go slow
Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, stay active
Activities Should Be joint Friendly
Recognise safe places and ways to be active
Talk to a health professional or exercise specialist.

Let’s go through each of these steps to see how you can implement it into your daily life.

Start low, go slow

If you’re not used to regular physical activity, or if it’s been a while since you’ve done much exercise, it’s important to start slowly and go for low intensity, joint friendly movements like walking, swimming or dancing. You may also find yoga helpful, but talk to your teacher or look online for an arthritis-friendly practice.

“The best approach is simple walking (outside in the fresh air if possible), followed by some gentle stretching. Be consistent - in other words, a little exercise every day is more beneficial than a long, demanding fitness session once a week,” says Katie Walton, an exercise coach and lifestyle blogger for people over 40.

Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, stay active

If you’re living with arthritis, you’ll know that not every day is the same. Some days may be relatively easy, and others may be incredibly painful. It’s really important that you listen to your body and be kind to yourself.

Be realistic about what you can do and modify where possible so you can still stay active but not exacerbate your symptoms. Try low impact exercises like swimming, gentle yoga, tai chi, attending an exercise class in a swimming pool or going for a slow, gentle walk. Avoid high impact activities like running, jumping and heavy lifting when you’re experiencing pain.

If you’re attending a class, tell your teacher if you’re having a bad day - it can be tempting to just grin and bear it, but they would much rather you be open with them so they can help you have a good and safe experience.

Activities should be joint friendly

It’s important that the physical activity you do is joint friendly and can be modified to meet your specific needs. Your GP or local arthritis support group will be able to help you find a class or practitioner which is suitable for you.

Some joint friendly activities you may want to consider are yoga (aim for a slow flow or a restorative/yin practice) as most teachers will ask you about any injuries or concerns you have and help you modify activities accordingly. There are also a range of free workouts and exercise programmes specifically designed for people with arthritis, which you can find here. 

Other activities you may want to try are cycling, walking, dancing, tai chi, pilates, resistance bands and exercises which use your own body weight. You can do these yourself by watching online videos or downloading an exercise app, or there may be classes in your area.

Zumba Gold, ballroom, jazzercise and belly dancing can be good options for people with arthritis. Whilst you may think that dancing could exacerbate your symptoms, a study in 2014 by Geriatric Nursing found that older people who did two 45 minute dance therapy classes a week reported less knee and hip pain. Contact the school or speak to the teacher first if you have any concerns.

Recognise safe places and ways to be active

It’s important that you’re exercising in a safe environment and doing activities which are appropriate for your fitness level and current capabilities. If you’re not used to regular physical activity, talking to your doctor, physical therapist or a personal trainer who works with people with arthritis can be helpful. Starting an exercise class - whether that’s water aerobics, dancing, yoga or something else - can be a great way to keep motivated, meet new people and ensure that the environment you’re working in is safe. If you have any concerns, contact the organisation prior to attending to discuss any specific needs you might have.

Safety also applies to activities you do on your own. If you’re walking, make sure you’re in a well lit area, avoid uneven surfaces and keep an eye out for obstructions, for example mud, scaffolding or anything else which may be unsafe.

Talk to a health professional or exercise specialist

Your GP or healthcare professional can discuss your exercise options with you and point you in the direction of additional resources. Exercise specialists who work with people with arthritis can help you create a specific programme tailored to your needs and fitness level. It’s always a good idea to talk to a health professional if you have any concerns about how exercise may impact your arthritis, and to tell them about your experience so they can continue to advise you with all the information they need.

Have you tried the SMART exercise method? How are you finding it? Let us know on Facebook.

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