Fitting In – A New Way To Be Active

Fitting In – A New Way To Be Active

Many RA patients can experience accelerated muscle loss or cachexia (muscle loss and weakness due to chronic illness), which contributes to the loss of physical function and quality of life. Physical activity and exercise are key in the management of arthritis, as it maintains muscle strength and endurance, range of motion, and the ability to perform daily activities. It’s instinctual to not move a joint when it’s inflamed and painful, but this isn’t always the best course of action. Often, it’s important to keep the joint mobile to prevent atrophy of the surrounding muscles, which decreases the level of support for the joint.

Take a Seat

The world of physical fitness is waking up to the notion that traditional forms of exercise are not suitable for everyone. Many groups are unable to perform these conventional forms of exercise and, as such, instructors are looking at ways to adapt their workouts so that physical activity can become more inclusive.

A number of novel approaches are being used to encourage those with arthritis to be more mobile, thus reducing pain and isolation. One such activity is chair yoga, which uses conventional poses and stretches associated with yoga, while incorporating the use of a chair. The chair offers support and allows traditional poses to be modified to allow patients to move through a range of routines, without putting a high level of strain on the joints.

Maintaining a healthy weight and appropriate muscle mass plays a significant role in promoting remission for patients with autoimmune forms of arthritis. Physical activity and exercise form part of a holistic approach to achieving this. Of course, as any arthritis patient will tell you, this is easier said than done. Mobility and associated pain hamper many patients’ efforts to achieve a higher level of fitness. Luckily, the world of physical fitness is realizing the need to create a more accessible environment. Globally, there is a newer trend to target those who find traditional exercise challenging, finding innovative ways to accommodate this growing section of the population.

A study using 131 senior participants at Florida Atlantic University found that this form of exercise eased pain and improved mobility when compared with a group that spent the equivalent time at a health education program (results of this study are available in the Journal of American Geriatrics Society).  

Participants that took “Sit N’ Fit Chair Yoga” classes were found to experience a greater decrease in fatigue, pain, and pain interference (the extent to which pain hampers daily activities). Additionally, this group had a significantly higher level of improvement in their walking speed. Participants were more comfortable undertaking exercise that offered greater bodily support, as it reduced concerns relating to balance and falling.

It is important to note however, if the level of exercise participation is not maintained, neither are the benefits. Therefore, for arthritis patients, these types of exercise need to be seen as a continuous lifestyle change in order to maximize the benefits. Other benefits are linked to important components of yoga practice, like proper breathing techniques. Altering the way and mindfulness in which we breathe has been associated with improvements in pain management.

Diving In

There are a variety of alternative exercises which follow the same principles as yoga, like low impact forms of exercise which minimize stress placed on joints. Swimming and water aerobics are a perfect example, as the water itself provides a high level of support and participants have to worry less about maintaining balance or falling. If performed in a heated pool, the warm water can help ease pain and stiffness in the joints, allowing an increased range of motion and duration of exercise. Water provides natural low intensity resistance, making exercises both aerobic and strengthening, thereby improving cardiovascular fitness, balance, and range of motion.

Small Steps, Large Impact

It can be intimidating as an arthritis patient to bring exercise in to your routine. Negative experiences can be common during physical activity if instructors have a lack of understanding or knowledge of arthritis, when “pushing it” is not always a viable option. However, considerable strides have been made in the world of physical fitness to better understand the needs of those with certain limitations and adjust the way in which fitness is approached. Joining a class specifically geared towards those with these limitations can be extremely beneficial, not just physically, but mentally as well. It gives participants an opportunity to socialize with others that understand the difficulties they face. It provides further opportunities to learn ways in which to practice physical activity outside of these classes – at home and as you move through daily activities. It also offers participants an element of control over their own therapies and pain management, reducing feelings of helplessness.

In a Class of Your Own

There are a number of cost-effective ways patients can exercise if they are not able to take a specific class or work with a trainer. There are numerous free online videos, classes, and books that can be carried out at home. A few links are provided below to get you started!

Kristin McGee is the author of the new book, Chair Yoga: Sit, Stretch, and Strengthen Your Way to a Happier, Healthier You.

Chair Yoga Sequence For Arthritis, Injuries & Mobility Issues!

(1 Hr) Chair Yoga Class for Osteoarthritis Relief with Justine Shelton


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Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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