Staying Active: Tips for Seniors With Arthritis

Senior man on his mountain bike outdoors (shallow DOF; color toned image)

Key Points

  • Arthritis affects over 58 million adults in the U.S., with annual medical costs and lost earnings amounting to $305 billion.

  • Maintaining an active lifestyle is crucial for managing arthritis.

  • Regular exercise helps seniors diagnosed with arthritis strengthen muscles around joints and maintain bone strength while providing more energy and better sleep.

Arthritis is an everyday companion for over 58 million aging adults in the U.S. alone, according to data compiled by the CDC. They also find that the annual medical costs for arthritis care and lost earnings are $305 billion. That's the bad news.

The good news is that arthritis doesn't have to throw a wet blanket on an active lifestyle! In fact, engaging in consistent exercises is a game-changer, helping you defy the odds and embark on a journey of renewed energy, improved mobility, and enhanced well-being.

If you're ready to reclaim your vitality and dance to the rhythm of life, keep reading for insightful tips and strategies for embracing exercise, even with arthritis.

Exercise for Seniors With Arthritis

While it might seem counterintuitive, maintaining an active lifestyle is crucial in managing arthritis. Regular exercise improves your overall health and fitness, strengthens the muscles around your joints, maintains bone strength, and gives you more energy and better sleep.

In the following sections, you'll discover various exercises suitable for seniors with arthritis. Each section contains detailed descriptions, benefits, and safety measures to consider.

Balance Activities

Balance activities are critical in preventing falls and improving posture — significant outcomes for seniors with arthritis, as falls lead to severe injuries. Balance exercises also boost your overall mobility.

Ideal balance activities for arthritis include standing leg lifts, heel-to-toe walks, chair stands, and balance walks. Those with a higher fitness level may consider low-impact balance activities like yoga or Tai Chi, always mindful of their joint health and pain levels.

When undertaking balance exercises, safety should remain your top priority. Always have a sturdy object like a wall or chair nearby to provide support when needed. Listen to your body — if an exercise causes you pain, stop doing it or modify the movement to make it more comfortable.

Seniors practice Tai Chi in a park.

Flexibility Exercises

Flexibility exercises stretch your muscles and increase your range of motion. Improved flexibility promotes healthier joints and enables you to perform better in your daily activities. Yoga, Pilates, and simple stretches are suitable flexibility exercises for seniors with arthritis. These exercises enhance joint health and general mobility while minimizing the risk of injury.

A proper warm-up is necessary before starting flexibility exercises to prevent injuries. Better still, try having a licensed physical therapist guide these exercises, at least initially. Remember, don't push your body too hard. Gentle, regular stretching yields more benefits than intense, occasional sessions.

Joint-Friendly Activities

A joint-friendly activity provides low-impact exercise to your joints, allowing you to stay active without causing undue pain or further damage. Joint-friendly activities such as swimming, cycling, walking, and gardening offer gentle, repetitive movements that reduce pain and inflammation and promote joint health.

How you incorporate these activities into your daily routine depends on your current physical health and medical advice. A good starting point is short sessions distributed throughout the day, ensuring you have adequate rest time between.

Low-Impact Aerobic Exercises

Low-impact aerobic exercises improve cardiovascular health, build stamina, and reduce fatigue, improving overall health. They also maintain joint range of motion and improve rheumatoid arthritis. Activities like swimming, cycling, brisk walking, or Zumba help burn calories and enhance cardiovascular health while putting minimal stress on your joints.

Seek medical advice before you undertake aerobic exercises. Your existing fitness levels will determine the pace and duration of activity. Gradually increase your exercise time and frequency to allow your body to adjust appropriately.

Gentle Stretches

Regular gentle stretches to lengthen your muscles and tendons increase joint flexibility and promote better mobility. Besides improving your functional ability, stretches contribute to pain relief by distributing the lubrication your joints need.

Board-certified family physician and founder of Unlimited Health Institute Tamika Henry, MD, MBA, says, "Stretching decreases the likelihood of injury, and it helps keep the joints and muscles mobile."

Gentle stretch exercises include calf stretches, seated hamstring stretches, quadriceps stretches, shoulder rolls, neck stretches, and wrist bends. Always ensure these stretches are done gently and in a pain-free range.

When stretching, remember to breathe deeply, relax your body, and avoid any stretch that leads to sharp pain. Hold each stretch for around 30 seconds and avoid bouncing, which causes muscle tightness.

Strength Training

Strength training is a powerful tool for maintaining the strength and functionality of your joints. These exercises build stronger muscles, which provide better support and protection for arthritic joints.

Strength training exercises such as wall pushups, seated leg raises, resistance band exercises, and light weightlifting are particularly beneficial for seniors with arthritis. Perform these exercises, emphasizing maintaining good form and alignment to avoid injuries.

When undertaking strength training, consider repetitions, weight, and rest periods. Start with lighter weights or resistance, higher repetitions, and adequate rest time between sessions. It's important to progress gradually and listen to your body's pain signals.

Stay Active Even With Arthritis

During Arthritis Awareness Month in May 2023, Cincinnati residents lined up to run in the Flying Pig Marathon. Your new exercise regimen doesn't have to lead to a marathon, but it's a good reminder of the importance of exercise, even with chronic pain.

Staying active with arthritis may be challenging, but it's essential in managing the condition. Regular exercise provides numerous benefits like better strength and flexibility, improved balance, weight control, and enhanced overall quality of life.

Remember, it's vital to consult your doctor or a physiotherapist before starting any new exercise regimen. Those medical professionals help tailor an exercise program that suits your physical health and arthritis, ensuring safety while maximizing results.

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