According to NHS surveys it’s estimated that over ten million people in the UK suffer from arthritis. Arthritis can affect anyone at any age including children, however, the most common age for onset of arthritis is in your mid-forties. Arthritis can occur in various places in the body and can range from a mild feeling of discomfort to debilitating pain. Living with arthritis can be a struggle but there are a number of things we can do to minimise the effects of arthritis and remain active despite the discomfort physical activity can cause. In this blog, I’d like to examine how arthritis can affect us, and what you can do about it.
Arthritis isn’t a single disease. The term arthritis is an umbrella term for hundreds of types of arthritis and related conditions. People of all ages and genders suffer from arthritis however research suggests that the people most likely to be afflicted are women above the age of forty. Those whose family members have suffered arthritis may be genetically predisposed to arthritis increasing the chances of it developing in later life.
Arthritis symptoms generally include swelling, pain, stiffness and diminished range of motion in the joints. Symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can fluctuate or worsen with time. Severe Arthritis can result in chronic pain that can make normal day-to-day activities such as walking, standing up or carrying things strenuous and painful. The two most common forms of arthritis are rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down over time, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes joint inflammation.
Arthritis refers to the inflammation of your joints. Inflammation is part of the body’s natural healing process like a bruise, and is a result of our bodies trying to trap bacteria and over offending agents and begin the process of tissue healing. When inflammation occurs chronically, however, inflammatory particles can degrade the tissue around your joints wearing them down over time. Damaged tissue around the joints can lead to your bones scraping against each other which can cause pain and discomfort and even sharpen your bones into dangerous sharp points. There is no direct cure for arthritis, and whereas there are some surgical procedures that can help alleviate pain and increase mobility there is no miracle cure.
The benefits of exercise for arthritis
For those suffering from arthritis physical exercise may seem counterintuitive to move when moving causes you discomfort. But our bodies are not designed to stay static and physical activity presents one of the best ways to combat stiffness associated with arthritis and remain mobile. Not exercising can lead to weakening muscles which cannot support your bones which will result in excess pressure on the joints, so it’s vital to stay active. Exercise can also release endorphins, the body’s natural pain relief which can lessen the symptoms of arthritis and cause a feeling of positivity and wellbeing. When exercising with arthritis your most important goals should be to build muscle mass to support your bones and joints, increase your range of movement and decrease health risks that can worsen arthritis.
Increasing your range of motion
Regularly moving your limbs can prevent your body from becoming stiff which makes it harder to exercise. By stretching on a regular basis you can improve circulation and will allow yourself to move more freely without fear of pain or injury. Stretching in the mornings can be a particularly good way of preparing your body for the day ahead. Focus on one area of the body at a time, and try to be aware of any pain or discomfort that comes from stretching. If you notice serious discomfort take a break to relax your joints then when you return to your exercise be mindful not to put too much pressure on an area of discomfort. Activities such as yoga or tai chi are great ways of stretching the body whilst also remaining in tune with how your body responds. Dynamic stretches are a great way of improving flexibility and range of motion. You can read more about dynamic stretching on our blog on this topic.
Maintaining your health
By stretching ourselves at the beginning of the day we can prepare our body for the day ahead, but it’s important that we also engage in physical activity that helps preserve our muscles and prevents us from gaining excess weight. However, we want to make sure that we are not at risk of injuring ourselves or exacerbating pain in our joints. Picking an exercise where your body is fully or partially supported can take pressure off your joints whilst still allowing you to remain active. Swimming is often recommended to those with arthritis as the water can help keep your body suspended and does not apply excess pressure to your joints. Cycling can also be a good way of exercising as the bike will support the weight of your torso but still allow your ankles and knees to build extra muscle to support your bones and joints.
Eating right for arthritis
Regular physical exercise is really important when it comes to staying mobile, but there are other things we can do to limit the spread and severity of arthritis. Maintaining a healthy and nutrient-rich diet can help reduce inflammation and keep away excess weight that can exacerbate your arthritis. Try and find foods that have anti-inflammatory properties such as turmeric, ginger or fruits and leafy veg that contain vitamins with anti-inflammatory properties, you can read more about what nutrients are great for your body and inflammation on our blog. Variety is the spice of life and should be for your diet too. Make sure you’re enjoying a wide range of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, fats and proteins.
Arthritis affects millions of us across the country, but it doesn’t need to debilitate you. By ensuring that you are stretching and exercising regularly you can ensure that arthritis doesn’t stop your ability to move. A little bit of physical activity every day can go a long way towards ensuring you remain mobile and independent as you get older. Make hunt down ingredients with anti-inflammatory properties and you’ll be fueling your body with all the ingredients it needs to keep arthritis at bay. So let’s all get out and move more, it’s only natural.