February 6th, 2014 / posted by paularath

For those suffering from osteoarthritis, it’s especially difficult to stick with a healthy exercise routine. Hey, it often hurts! Those aching hips and knees make anything high intensity or high impact kapu. Arthritis in the neck and back can make a squat or push up seem impossible. Even that pesky problem so many women in particular suffer from – arthritis of the hands – can render an exercise program painful.

Yet our doctors tell us we must keep working out for the sake of our overall health and fitness. What to do? Sometimes we just have to power through some pain.

Focus and clarity of purpose can help. If you have arthritis, the Harvard  Medical School newsletter advises, you want to be sure your exercise routine has these goals in mind:

  1. A better range of motion (improved joint mobility and flexibility). To increase your range of motion, move a joint as far as it can go and then try to push a little farther. These exercises can be done any time, even when your joints are painful or swollen, as long as you do them gently.
  2. Stronger muscles (through resistance training). Fancy equipment isn’t needed. You can use your own body weight as resistance to build muscles. For example, the simple exercise described below can help ease the strain on your knees by strengthening your thigh muscles. Sit in a chair. Now lean forward and stand by pushing up with your thigh muscles (use your arms for balance only). Stand a moment, then sit back down, using your thigh muscles.
  3. Better endurance. Aerobic exercise — such as walking, swimming, and bicycling — strengthens your heart and lungs and thereby increases endurance and overall health. Stick to activities that don’t jar your joints, and avoid high impact activities such as jogging. If you’re having a flare-up of symptoms, wait until it subsides before doing endurance exercise.
  4. Better balance. There are simple ways to work on balance. For example, stand with your weight on both feet. Then try lifting one foot while you balance on the other foot for 5 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Over time, work your way up to 30 seconds. Yoga and tai chi are also good for balance.

Here in Hawaii, we are especially lucky because low impact water sports are so accessible and water sports are often easier on painful arthritic joints. If you find swimming laps too boring, try Aqua Zumba. If it’s difficult to get on an off a surfboard, try stand-up paddling. If your joints no longer enable you to run, how about paddling a canoe or kayak or one-man? And, hey, Aqua Zumba can be really fun for those who get bored with their water workouts. Often referred to as a “Pool Party,” an Aqua Zumba class is usually a fun, social form of exercise.

Arthritis doesn’t have to keep you from enjoying life.

– Paula Rath

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