World Arthritis Day: How fitness can alleviate physical and mental pain
Exercise can help reduce joint pain and stiffness, while increasing flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness and endurance
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. The activities an individual does or does not undertake can have a major impact on their joints and the level of arthritis pain they experience.
One in five people in the UAE (including kids) and over 350 million people globally are affected by some form of arthritis.
Exercise is a crucial element when it comes to dealing with the pain caused by arthritis, as it helps reduce joint pain and stiffness, and increases flexibility, muscle strength, cardiac fitness and endurance. It is advisable to design an individual exercise plan for each person, depending on the intensity of their pain and after consulting a medical professional.
The amount and form of exercise recommended for each individual will vary depending on:
- which joints are involved
- the amount of inflammation
- how stable the joints are
- whether a joint replacement procedure has been done
Some types of potential exercises are:
- Range-of-motion exercise - This helps maintain normal joint movement and relieve stiffness, while maintaining or increasing flexibility. E.g. Dance
- Strengthening exercise - This helps keep or increase muscle strength. Strong muscles help support and protect joints affected by arthritis. E.g. Moderate weight training under professional supervision
- Aerobic or endurance exercise - This improves cardiovascular fitness, helps control weight, and improves overall function. E.g. Bicycle riding
Staying fit during Covid
No doubt, patients with arthritis have also been affected by Covid-19 in their own way. There are ways for them to keep up their exercise routines though.
To adapt to the changing scenario, we recommend patients find new and creative ways to stay active. For example, you can exercise with your community groups via video conferencing technologies, or participate in Fitbit challenges to stay motivated.
Patients are advised to break up sitting time with light-intensity activities, such as walking to grab a glass of water or tending to plants. Now with temperatures dropping, a walk in a park will be a pleasant and healthy activity too.
Patients are also encouraged to practise yoga, as it is considered a low-impact exercise that can be safely practised by everyone who has arthritis. It helps keep joints flexible, increases the flow of synovial fluid to joints and improves their range of motion. Several yoga poses are also useful in strengthening the muscles, thus supporting the joints better.
Exercise is not only about physical benefits - but about mental wellbeing too. Any form of physical activity promotes the release of endorphins, a feel-good hormone, in our bodies and in turn reduces feelings of pain.
Of course, individuals are also advised to eat a healthy, clean diet with no artificial colours or additives. They would also do well to consume enough calcium and ensure enough exposure to sun for vitamin D.
(Dr. Humeira Badsha is consultant Rheumatologist and Board Member at Middle East Arthritis Foundation (MEAF), which is organising a comprehensive online seven-day programme between October 9-16,that will bring together leading experts to help patients manage arthritis. Visit www.arthritis.ae/waw for more info.)