Regular, careful and safe exercise is one of the best things you can do to manage your condition and improve your health.
There’s no evidence to suggest that exercise makes your arthritis worse. In fact, we know that gentle exercise can help with inflammation.
Why do I need to exercise?
Your body is supposed to move and it needs exercise. If you don’t exercise regularly and keep your joints moving, they'll become stiff and painful.
Exercise is great because it:
- improves your self confidence and mood
- increases your energy levels
- improves your sleep patterns
- produces endorphins, which help to reduce pain, stiffness and anxiety
- increases fitness, strength and flexibility
- can reduce the risk of complications caused by your arthritis, such as muscle weakness and stiffness
- helps speed up your recovery from flare-ups.
Exercise can also help you to keep to a healthy weight. Being overweight can make your symptoms worse, put extra strain on your joints and make treatments less effective. A healthy weight can help you manage your condition and improve your self-confidence.
The more you get into an exercise routine, the more natural it'll be, and the more you'll enjoy it. Aim for at least one hour of moderate exercise a day. Try to include exercise in your daily life, for example by cycling to school or to see friends, instead of getting a lift.
What exercise could I try?
You don’t have to be a marathon runner to keep active and be fit and healthy. There are many different ways to exercise and you need to do what you enjoy. Your physiotherapist can help if you need suggestions of exercises to try.
You might be able to mix a few different types of exercise. This will keep exercise interesting and work out different parts of your body
Keeping active will help your whole body, not just the affected joints. The stronger and fitter you are, the more support your joints will have.
Swimming is a great exercise for some people with arthritis. It builds strength, which helps support your joints, and suppleness.
Swimming also improves your cardiovascular health and fitness, which means that your heart and lungs are exercised, and the blood is pumped around your body at a good rate.
It won’t put any stress on your joints as the water supports your weight, so it's great if you have inflammation around your joints.
Cycling is also a superb form of exercise. Again, it’s great cardiovascular exercise and doesn't put pressure on your joints. It strengthens your leg muscles, which helps support your joints.
If you don’t fancy cycling on roads, you could cycle on a static bike in a gym or at home. If you do head out on a bike, wear a helmet and take care.
If you’ve had a period of time when you haven’t been able to exercise, your body will need to get used to training again. You should gradually increase your training; your physiotherapist will be able to help you plan this.
Pilates and yoga
Some people find that Pilates and yoga classes are enjoyable and good for managing their condition.
Pilates focuses on stretching and strengthening exercises and routines which works the whole body to improve posture, flexibility, strength and balance. It incorporates elements of Western forms of exercise with yoga and martial arts.
Practitioners say that Pilates is a more gentle way of raising your activity levels and is said to be particularly beneficial and suitable if you have poor mobility, aches and pains or an injury. Pilates is a gentle, low-impact form of exercise.
Yoga also focuses on developing strength, posture, balance and good breathing technique. It can have a more spiritual side.
Yoga concentrates on breathing and on the participant developing particular postures, through a series of movements designed to increase the strength and flexibility of the whole body.
Should I exercise during a flare-up?
It’s important to try to maintain your exercise levels even when you’re having a flare-up. Swimming and cycling can be good during this time as it avoids loading of the joints.
You may also find that isometric exercises are more comfortable during this time. Isometric exercises are when you tighten particular muscles without moving a joint. Your physiotherapist will show you these exercise and explain when they should be practised.
It’s often advised that you avoid high-impact activities while your joints are swollen.
Once the inflammation has been controlled, talk to your rheumatology nurse or consultant about returning to exercising.
If there’s been swelling around a joint, it’s common to have some muscle wasting.
You may notice your muscles look smaller and feel weaker. Your physiotherapist will assess your muscle strength and give you some strengthening exercises to practise at home to build this up again.
How can I stay motivated?
It’s good to keep an exercise diary to keep track of how you’re doing. This will allow you to look at patterns of how exercise is hopefully helping you manage your condition.
Good advice is to find something you enjoy and that works well for you.
One of the most successful ways to keep exercising on a regular basis is to take up a sport or a hobby where you have additional social benefits.
Read more about exercise and arthritis.