For those of us who get a bit older every day, the thought of developing arthritis can loom large. With good reason.
According to the CDC, 49.7% of all adults over 65 report doctor-diagnosed arthritis. By far the most common type of arthritis involved is osteoarthritis. This is the one that is related to wear and tear. Basically, the cartilage in joints starts to degenerate, and then there can be changes in the related bone and tissue structures. The result is painful movement, swelling, inflammation, and loss of function.
Sorry, but I just have to give you some other depressing stats and then I can get on to some better news.
Arthritis can take a heavy toll on our quality of life. The CDC also reports that, among those with arthritis, 6 million report that it limits their social lives (including family), 8 million have trouble with stairs, and 11 million find it hard to walk more than short distances.
Yuk! Who wants to sign up for that?
What Stands Out?
Taking a look at those stats again, what stands out? Difficulty moving around. Once that happens, there is a downhill spiral. It’s difficult to tell what happens first, but arthritis frequently goes along with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Osteoarthritis is related to stress on our tissues. It happens when the stress applied to our tissues is more than our ability to withstand the stress. The most effected areas seem to be hands, knees, hips, and spine.
The take-home message here is that muscle weakness can be both a cause and a result of developing arthritis.
Prevention and Treatment
The prescription for prevention and treatment is always low-impact cardiovascular activity, strength training, and stretching. Sounds pretty much like what we all need to be doing anyway, right?
But, here’s another thing. We all need to keep moving around. It’s important to do that. But if our muscles are imbalanced, weak, and not protecting our joints as well as they could, doing repetitive cardiovascular exercise may lead you down a road you don’t want to be on.
Building a foundation of strength can help protect and stabilize your joints, which lessens the stress that can start a degenerative process.
If you happen to already have arthritis, it’s important to work on getting some strength back. This not only helps get some movement back, but it has been shown to reduce the pain by about 50%. With less pain, you will be encouraged to do more cardiovascular, aerobic activity. Or any activity for that matter.
The guidelines for strength training are to hit as many muscles as possible, 2-4 times/week. If you have an arthritic area, you may need to keep things very light at first, and make sure you stay away from any part of the motion that is painful.
One very overlooked area with strength training is a warm-up. Warming up is often part of a cardiovascular activity, but is not often built into strength training. For either activity, your joints need to be made ready by increasing circulation and lubrication. This is an important part of preparing them for whatever is coming next.
Warming up before strength training can be a walk for 10 minutes, gentle repetitive movements for your major joints, or doing a few repetitions with light weights.
Now, just so you don’t go away from this without something you can DO, try the following two exercises for your hip/glutes/low back/core. You can use these as a warm-up move for your hips, or as an exercise.
Get on your all 4’s, back not arched, shoulders not rounded.
- Draw your naval toward your spine to activate your core/abs. Keeping strong in this position, lift one leg up and to the side, keeping the knee bent 90 degrees. Do your best not to tilt to the opposite side in an attempt to raise your leg higher. Do this 10 times each side. For obvious reasons, this exercise is called “Fire Hydrants”.
- Keeping this same position, lift one leg as before, but this time circle the leg from the hip joint. Circle forward 10 times, then backwards 10 times, keeping the knee bent as before.
Voila! You have just lubricated, strengthened, and increased the movement in important areas commonly affected by arthritis.
If you want a few ideas for protecting your knees, see my blog, Is It Worth Investing in Ankle (or Wrist) Weights?
What are your thoughts about arthritis? Contact me here.
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