Staying Active with Arthritis

A few weeks ago, Tali asked if she could please take over the blog to talk about  something very personal to her and something I thought was incredibly inspiring and interesting.

Tali is in her 20’s, and she has arthritis, BUT that hasn’t deterred her from staying active which is AWESOME. I absolutely love stories about people who don’t let medical issues get in the way of fitness.  Her guest post is below, but also make sure to check out her blog, Wee Picket Fences (her last name is Wee!).  

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Bike Ride

Tips to Staying Active with Arthritis

The human body is designed for physical activity and has evolved to perform impressive feats such as long distance running.  Getting regular exercise improves fitness, sleep, body weight, energy level, brain function, immune systems, moods and overall health to prevent disease.  However, approximately 21 million adults in the U.S. have limited activity levels due to the restrictions of their arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arthritis causes inflammation, fatigue, stiffness, pain and joint damage and does not have a cure.  These symptoms often flare with physical activity but worsen without it.  Exercise is a catch 22 for those living with arthritis.

Experiencing Arthritis:

Of the 50 million Americans living with arthritis, few cases are alike (CDCP). Some arthritis patients have just one joint affected with painful symptoms where others might suffer throughout their entire bodies.  We’ve all seen the commercials for Enbrel or Humira where patients can’t open a jar or comfortably travel up and down stairs prior to being medicated.  Medication to suppress the immune system decreases inflammation which typically relieves the pain, allowing patients to live fairly normal lives.

I’m one of the 9 percent of U.S. adults who are physically limited by arthritis.  By the time I found a doctor who could properly diagnose and treat my disease, she was shocked to find that I’d maintained a fairly healthy body weight and attitude without medication.  The doctor mentioned most patients suffering from severe cases become ‘couch potatoes’ after years of untreated symptoms.

Think about a time when you worked out so hard that you awoke the next day barely able to move.  The pain is a nice reminder that you’re building muscles, and it’s sometimes laughable when trying to accomplish daily activities.  Maybe you need a day to rest your fatigued muscles, or perhaps you just hit the gym and work through that sensitivity.  Living with my arthritis is similar to waking up with a sore body.  Only I have to monitor carefully if exercising through the discomfort will be pushing my body into a state of inflammation and increased pain, or if it’ll loosen my joints and alleviate the stiffness.

Pacing Exercise:

Originally, arthritic patients were instructed to lay low and not add pressure to their joints.  Now, experts suggest getting consistent, low-impact, aerobic exercise.  When my entire body feels too heavy, stiff and throbbing to get up and exercise, I try to focus on small goals.  My theory is some activity is better than none.

My Manageable Exercise Goals Are:

  • Just 15 minutes of stretching.
  • Take the dog for a brief, casual walk.
  • Make it to the gym for 20 minutes of Elliptical exercise.
  • Swim laps for 30 minutes.
  • Complete an at-home yoga video.
  • Attend a hot yoga class.
  • Attempt a P90 video and complete only what’s reasonable.

I simply try to do what I can that day without pushing it.  The trick is to not take it too far on the good days.  When I feel amped to get a quality workout in, I have to tone it down and do what I know my body is prepared to handle.  Otherwise, I won’t be able to workout at all for the next three days.  This took many years to master.  Exercise as an arthritic person can be a serious test of self-control.  It’s important to monitor how my body responds, not just how energetic and competitive I feel.  Some days I’m internally motivated but my body refuses.  Those become my rest days.

Poster Style Biking

Staying Motivated:

Arthritic exercisers are like anyone else trying to stay motived to keep fit, despite their slow ramp-up period.  It’s helpful to have a schedule of how many days of the week should include exercise.  Try to block the time off in the calendar to be sure not to skip exercising.  Purchase a gym membership to feel slightly more obligated to attend.  Get involved in activities that feel refreshing such as walking, yoga, bicycling, dancing, gardening and Pilates or Tai-Chi.  Pair up with a friend to make mellow activates more enjoyable.  When energy is lacking, try setting a minimum time for an activity; just a 20 minute bike ride is mentally manageable on fatigued days.  Those with arthritis often suffer from fatigue.  Inactivity actually lends to further fatigue.  Getting out in the fresh air on a short walk can be enough to shift energy toward a healthier lifestyle.

What I’ve found from personal experience is the slow, steady increase of activity is the ticket to health.  With arthritis, there is no way to quickly jump back into exercise, we have to work ourselves back in.  It sounds lame in the beginning; try a 10 minute walk every day coupled with a few stretches.  This leads to 15 minutes, 20 minutes and then the eventual transition to solid a 45 minutes of aerobic exercise.  Truthfully, I go through weeks of feeling discouraged, uncomfortable and lazy.  But I can get inspired by the ultimate challenge of running.

For years, running was my goal.  That goal for an arthritic person can take months to work up to.  I used to be an athlete and know there is nothing quite like running with determination, winning and feeling exhausted from the triumph.  I’ve worked my way back up to running a couple of times over the years.  Between balancing medication, diet, weight and the slow fitness acceleration, running is a truly challenging goal to keep up with.

Takeaway:

Remember that exercise is healing for people living with arthritis.  Monitor your pace and take it slow.  Set weekly goals for the amount and type of exercises you’ll attempt.  Pay attention to your body’s resistance and think about how it’ll feel tomorrow.  Stay hopeful that tomorrow is one workout closer to running, jumping or whatever fitness goal you may hold.

Bio: Tali Wee currently blogs about life in the northwest and handles the community outreach for Zillow.  She owns Wee Picket Fences where she writes about being a foodie, new homeowner, bargain hunter and activity enthusiast.  Tali enjoys family, food, travel, writing and spending time on projects around the house.

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3 thoughts on “Staying Active with Arthritis

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: How to Stay Motivated to Exercise With Arthritis |

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