I am 70 and have severe osteoarthritis in my hands and wrists. Although I keep healthy and active (walking and swimming), I am starting to lose muscle tone in my arms — obviously I can’t lift weights. Can you suggest something?
As you will be aware, with severe arthritis in your hands, even simple tasks suddenly become difficult to impossible, if they require intricate finger movements or a good grip.
Your swimming should be very useful for maintaining good strength in your arms and shoulders, but ideally you need to be doing at least two sessions a week. You might also have a go at an aqua-aerobics class. These days there are quite a few classes specifically for seniors (check with your local leisure centre), and you should find water equipment easier to manage than traditional gym equipment. An aqua workout can be very challenging, will definitely help with arm strength as well as heart and lung fitness – and they’re a lot of fun.
You say you cannot lift weights, but in fact it may be possible with the help of some adaptations. For home exercise, the equipment you’d need depends on just how affected your hands are by the arthritis. Here’s some suggestions:
- adjustable wrist weights wrap around your wrists so you can do arm exercises as though you were holding weights in your hands. If you have no grip at all, these are a good solution. Powerhouse and Physical Company are examples of suppliers . Note that they can usually double up as ankle weights for leg strength exercises, too!
- support gloves, such as these from Newgrip, give you extra grip. Some have extra wrist support, too. If you have a little grip strength this is a versatile option, and you can even get an easy-to-put-on “glove”
- Soft-covered hand weights with an elastic over-hand strap are suitable if you can grip but would like extra security when lifting the weight
- Soft-grip hand weights like these ball-shaped weights or pillow-shaped wieghts, are designed for people with poor grip
- Stretchy bands are very versatile and you can get a handle attachment, such as this from Physical Company, that makes gripping easier.
Whichever you go for, it would be a wise investment to organise a session or two with a suitably qualified personal trainer (REPS Level 3 with Disabled People certificate). They will set you a proper programme including mobility and stretch exercises alongside your strength work. And they’ll set you off at the right level and with good technique, so you don’t end up hurting yourself.
I hope you haven’t given up on your hands: however badly affected they are, you may still be able to get some strengthening and mobility benefit by doing simple but important daily exercises. Arthritis Care has a very good exercise booklet and you can get hand, wrist and finger strengthening aids from Yourable.