With arthritic knees, am I doomed to be unfit?

Jane mugshot for JQAI am 81 and until recently kept fit with reg­u­lar ball­room– and tea-​dancing classes. Now the flare-​ups from arth­ritis in my knees are so bad I can no longer keep up these activ­it­ies. Gardening, and even house­hold clean­ing are also a struggle. What can I do to keep my fit­ness levels up?

You prob­ably already real­ise that, des­pite the pain and frus­tra­tion, it is far bet­ter to stay fit and act­ive than to give in to your arth­ritis. As long as you are cau­tious and avoid stress­ing your knees dur­ing flare-​ups, you will be doing your­self a favour by keep­ing your knees, hips and ankles mobile and your muscles strong.

As I don’t know what other lim­it­a­tions you might have, my sug­ges­tions are for gen­eral guid­ance – always check with your GP and an advanced fit­ness trainer before you take up activ­it­ies that may turn out to be unsuit­able for other under­ly­ing reas­ons. Also, remem­ber that new, unfa­mil­iar activ­it­ies can take a bit of get­ting used to – so keep an open mind for the first few weeks.

The swim­ming pool is a great keep-​fit option, because the water reduces the strain on your knees. Swimming will cer­tainly help with over­all fit­ness, espe­cially heart and lungs, but you may want to avoid breast-​stroke, where the leg action is not good for dodgy knees. For a soci­able and fun workout, try a seni­ors aqua aer­obics class. Or try wear­ing a float­a­tion belt and “walk” upright in deep water, where your feet don’t touch the ground: no knee pres­sure, and a very good workout (build up to 20-​minute ses­sions).

You may be able to help reduce your pain and flare-​ups with some very care­ful strength­en­ing of your leg muscles, espe­cially around the knees. This is best done with expert guid­ance. The local leis­ure centre or gym should have an advanced instructor with a “REPS 3 exer­cise refer­ral” qual­i­fic­a­tion, who can set you up with a pro­gramme.

If you do try out the gym, see whether you can man­age a cyc­ling machine (go for one with a back rest). Get the instructor to set the machine up prop­erly for you to min­im­ise knee pain. An altern­at­ive is an “arm cyc­ling” machine, where you sit and turn the ped­als at chest height, using your hands. Both activ­it­ies will boost your heart health.

Try a seni­ors’ tai chi class – per­haps the next best thing to dan­cing in slow motion! This con­trolled and grace­ful dis­cip­line is excel­lent for strength, pos­ture and bal­ance, and gentle and pre­cise enough to be kind to your knees.

How about jug­gling? It’s a bril­liant way to keep your brain and senses sharp, your hands supple – and it is sur­pris­ingly ener­getic without being hard on your knees. It might even provide you with a great party piece to rival your former skill at ball­room dan­cing!

Whatever you go for, make sure you do joint loosen­ing and stretch­ing every day to pre­vent your knees from stiff­en­ing up. Arthritis Care has a help­ful book­let, “Arthritis & Exercise”, which explains all the basics.

Increase Text Size Increase Text Size

Add your thoughts