As lockdown continues, and we face another few months of life without access to our traditional gym settings, I have been inundated with questions regarding training strategies that can be implemented at home.
If you’ve recently been told by your doctor that those swollen and stiff joints, pain, loss of motion, tingling and fatigue are due to arthritis, you’re certainly not alone. Figures suggest that more than 10 million people in the UK have some form of arthritis, Arthritis Action, making it the most common cause of disability in the country.
Defined literally as ‘inflammation of the joints’, arthritis is actually an umbrella term used to cover a range of over 200 different conditions that can affect bones, muscles and joints all over the body. While there is no one specific cause of arthritis, various contributory factors have been established which range from genetics and age to injury, infections and lifestyle.
Although there are many different varieties of arthritis, osteoarthritis is by far the most common type. Generally associated with wear and tear, this ‘degenerative’ type of arthritis tends to target people as they age. The second-most-common type is rheumatoid arthritis, where the immune system attacks the joints.
Having obtained a diagnosis of arthritis, you may well be wondering what changes, if any, need to be made to your lifestyle. Perhaps hearing the ‘a’ word has sent you instinctively to the sofa, convinced that you need to take it easy and have plenty of rest. However, keeping active when managing arthritis is not only perfectly safe but highly recommended.
We now know that like with so many conditions, movement when living with arthritis is critical. There’s certainly no needed to stop doing the things you enjoy, whether it’s swimming, the gym, walking or running. I am also keen to dispel the myth that exercise is the cause of arthritis. There is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. If anything, now is the time when being active takes on added importance.
This advice is echoed by Versus Arthritis (an amalgamated organisation through the merger of Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK) which observes that many people with arthritis worry that exercise can harm the joints. This concern is not true. It is normal to sometimes feel a little sore or uncomfortable after exercise, especially if it is something you haven’t done for a while, but it is important to remember that this does not mean that you are harming your joints. In fact, regular exercise is essential as it helps to strengthen the muscles that protect and support the joints.
For those who have until now been leading a somewhat sedentary lifestyle and/or are overweight, a diagnosis of arthritis could serve as a timely opportunity to take back control rather than sink further into an inactive routine. Now is the ideal time to take charge of your health and lifestyle. Start slowly with a gentle walk, for example; you don’t need to run a marathon. Low impact exercise such as swimming is also ideal. The key message is to keep moving.
Avoiding activity due to pain is not advised as this will lead to the joints getting a little stiffer and the muscles weakening. Exercise has even been proven to help reduce the pain of arthritis and improve function.
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Imagine playing a complex board game where everyone is playing by their own rules, except you don’t know what the rules are or how to invent your own. That’s what life can feel like when we haven’t learnt the skill of healthy personal boundaries.
I sincerely believe that everyone should have the opportunity of leading happy and fulfilled lives, feeling confident and secure to enjoy their life to the full.
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