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Exercising with Arthritis: Getting Started

Manage Symptoms with Physical Activity
  -- By Jen Mueller, Certified Personal Trainer
If you live with the daily pain and discomfort of arthritis, you're not the only one. In the United States, an estimated 46 million adults (about 1 in 5) have been diagnosed with arthritis. Hopefully your doctor has given you suggestions about how to reduce the symptoms, lessen the debilitating effects, and improve your quality of life. One of these suggestions was probably to engage in regular physical activity. So how do you get motivated to go to the gym when you can't even get out of bed without pain? Is exercise really going to make a difference?

Research shows a positive relationship between arthritis and exercise: If you have arthritis, three different kinds of activity should be incorporated into your exercise program: flexibility training, strength training and aerobic exercise. That may seem like a lot, but once you get into a routine and notice the benefits each provides, it will become a normal part of your everyday life.<pagebreak>

Flexibility Training
Stiff joints hurt your ability to perform daily tasks, like buttoning a shirt or opening a can. But stretching will improve your range of motion, resulting in greater flexibility and less pain. Stretch every major muscle group daily, paying particular attention to the joints affected by arthritis to help prevent joint stiffness and soreness. Strength Training
Weak muscles are common in people with arthritis. This decrease in strength is often caused by inactivity (due to the pain of arthritis) or medication side effects. Muscular strength is important because it decreases the stress on your joints, absorbs shock, protects your joints from injury, and helps improve your overall mobility. Before you start a strength training program, talk to your doctor for recommendations based on your condition and the degree of inflammation you experience. Aerobic Exercise
Weight-bearing activities like walking strengthen your bones, improve your balance and coordination, and help you maintain a healthy weight. In addition to these physical benefits, aerobic exercise helps improve your mood and reduces tension and stress. Aim for 3-4 sessions of aerobic exercise each week. You and your doctor should work closely to come up with an exercise plan for you. Since each person is different with regards to arthritis type, degree of severity, and limitations, what works for one person might not work for another. That's why it is so important to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.

Starting a consistent exercise program will help manage your disease and reduce your risk of future problems. Arthritis and exercise go hand-in-hand, so get up and get moving!