I am 60 but retired early because of severe osteoarthritis in my knee and spine. The worse the pain has become, the less mobile I am and as a result I am now very overweight. I have been put on a strict diet but wonder if there are any exercises that would help?
Severe joint pain and weight gain work together in a debilitating and depressing downwards spiral. You need courage and determination to break the cycle, but it is very important to try, if you are going to maintain your quality of life and independence into your later years.
A strict and sensible diet is essential, but so is a gradual increase in your daily levels of movement /exercise. Do not expect instant results – set yourself moderate monthly goals to achieve in both weight loss and movement gain. And be prepared for setbacks. It is common for people with osteoarthritis to get increased pain when they start an exercise programme, and whenever the arthritis is particularly bad (in flare-up) you should limit your exercise to stretching and gentle loosening-up work.
If you don’t already have it, the booklet “Exercise and Arthritis” by Arthritis Care is a really good practical starting point. Alongside the exercises there, your next best buy is a water workout. Not aerobics, but walking in deep water. This will protect your joints, have a soothing effect and also give you a valuable, calorie burning total-body fitness session.
These days many pools have “aqua belts”: bulky floats that wrap and belt up tightly around your body. Or you can buy one online. The belt keeps you upright in the water and will help stabilise your spine. You can then “walk” in the deep end (ie, 2m or more depth). If bending your knee is painful, try a “scissor” walk with straight legs and arms.
Start gently – perhaps just 10 minutes in the water, doing up to five widths in the deep end. It’s hard work. Stop when you get tired. Make a note of your times and number of widths. Then aim to do at least that amount next time. Add a minute or an extra width each week as your stamina and fitness develop.
If the pool is not possible, I suggest you try a “rebounder” at home. These small bouncers (much less springy than a trampoline) are good for reducing impact on your vulnerable joints when you exercise. Try to buy one that comes with a support frame, which you can use until you feel confident and fit enough to do without. Use the rebounder to do steady “springy” walking, not bouncing or jumping.
If you are mobile enough to get to a gym, ask your GP to refer you to an “exercise referral” scheme. This will give you a supervised environment with skilled instructors who can draw up a personalised gym programme to help speed your weight loss, build muscles to protect your joints and reduce your pain.