A regular exercise program is crucial to managing your osteoarthritis and staying well. People with arthritis sometimes have to put exercise on hold because of a flare-up, but quitting completely – or for too long – isn't smart. Excessive rest is bad for your joints, muscles and sense of well-being.
Benefits as a Motivator
Thinking about the powerful benefits of exercise can help you keep going or get going again. You surely know about the proven physical benefits – improved joint flexibility, strength, fitness, as well as more energy, and better pain relief. But you should also know about the psychological benefits: decreased anxiety and depression, increased self-esteem, and improved ability to cope with stress.
Before You Start
Planning your exercise can help you start to think of yourself as an active person - an exerciser.
- What will you do? Pick activities that you enjoy doing – so you'll look forward to doing it. Also pick something that's convenient to do. Even though you may remember loving to swim when you were in high school, it may not be a good choice now if there's not a swimming pool nearby.
- When will you do it? Plan one or two activities that will be easy to work into your schedule most days of the week - perhaps one when you have extra time (such as tennis or swimming) and another (such as walking or biking) when you don't.
- Start small, such as "I will walk three times a week for 20 minutes." Eventually, you should plan to exercise 5 or 6 days a week for 45 minutes – but you should build up to that slowly over 6 to 12 months.
- Don't rush. If you push yourself too fast or too hard, you will get discouraged and abandon your effort. Better to go slowly and go the distance.
- Make a contract with yourself. Write down your plan and sign it.
How to Stick With It
- Schedule exercise. When you put it on your calendar, just the way you do meetings and haircuts. That way you'll always have the time for it.
- Program it into your daily life - just like eating and sleeping - so that you miss it when serious circumstances force you to skip a day.
- Team up with a friend or two. You'll be less likely to skip that walk when there's someone waiting for you on the corner. Or join a regular workout group for support.
- Play it safe. Be sure to stretch those muscles and warm up slowly at the start of every exercise session - and then cool down slowly and stretch again at the end. Stretching is the key to avoiding injury.
- Reward yourself. When you meet a goal, treat yourself to something you've been wanting.
- Use positive motivation. Don't say, "I'll be in pain if I don't exercise." Instead say, "I feel better when I exercise."
When a Flare Hits
- Try not to stop entirely, unless your doctor advises you to do so.
- Take it easier - make it less intense. A shorter period of exercise is better than less frequent exercise. If you can stick with your plan 80 percent of the time, that's great. Even 50 percent or 15 percent is better than nothing.
- If you do have to interrupt your program due to a flare, think of it as taking a break - not quitting.
Remember, exercise is something you do for you - not for someone else - and you're worth it!