Will walking help my arthritis?

Jane mugshot for JQAI 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.

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