I have a curvature and arthritis in the spine, and I would like to know if walking as exercise (with my stick) is likely to benefit or harm my condition. Also, is there any other exercise that might be suitable for me (except swimming). I am aged 70
Before I offer you general advice please be clear: what works for one person may not be right for another. Anyone advising you on the best exercise for your circumstances will need to know all the specifics, including any medications, the nature of your curvature and so on. Especially if you are unused to exercise, you should talk to your GP first, and perhaps ask if he or she can refer you to a specialist exercise scheme to get you properly assessed and started off under supervision.
Arthritis seems to be a fact of life as we age. Called the “wear and tear” disease, it’s not curable but neither does it have to shut down our lives. Exercise is one very important ingredient in keeping on top of the condition.
There are around 200 different kinds of arthritis, a blanket term for conditions that cause swelling, stiffness and pain in the joints. In the most common kind – osteoarthritis –fingers, knees, hips, toes and spine are the usual trouble spots. Pain tends to come and go, accompanying “flare-ups” – periods when the joint is inflamed. A flare-up may take days, weeks or months to settle.
Experts used to advise against exercise, but not any more. Top priority is mobility: simple movements that prevent the affected joint from permanently stiffening you up. Daily mobility exercises, done at home, are a valuable investment of time.
Next, try to build muscle strength to support and protect the damaged joint(s). Third, heart and lung fitness will give all-round body conditioning and counteract the energy-sapping effects of the disease.
Walking is a recommended exercise for arthritis. And if, as with many older people, your spinal curvature is a result of osteoporosis, walking can help maintain vital bone quality. Starting cautiously, you should be aiming to build up to 30 minutes of walking, three to five times a week. A stick is fine to keep you steady, but try to hold good posture as much as possible – indoors and out.
As for other exercise: do gentle mobility and strengthening, especially abdominals and back. Have a look at “Exercise and Arthritis”, a helpful exercise advice booklet from the self-help charity Arthritis Care.
A final word about pain. It is common with arthritis to find that your pain increases a bit when you start an exercise régime. This should settle, and many people find that improved fitness reduces their pain. But do consult an advanced trainer, physiotherapist or your GP if you are at all worried.