Arthritis affects many people in the UK, but it needn’t stop you from being active. In fact, in addition to a whole host of other health and wellbeing benefits, not to mention the fun factor, exercise has been shown to improve arthritic symptoms, so it’s really important you’re not missing out. Here AXA Health physiologists Dan Webster and Dan Poulter explain which types of exercise may be most beneficial and why.
What is arthritis?
In the UK, it is thought that there are approximately 10 million people that have arthritis, affecting people of all ages. However, some forms of arthritis are most common in older people. The word arthritis is used to describe pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint, but there isn’t just one type.
Types of arthritis
There are over 200 different types of arthritis, although the two most commonly known are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease, which accounts for the majority of those diagnosed with arthritis (nine million people in the UK) and typically occurs in those over 40 years of age. Injury, overuse injuries, obesity, age, gender, race and family history have all been suggested as possible risk factors for osteoarthritis. This form of arthritis occurs when the cartilage, which acts as a cushion between two bones within a joint, starts to break down and causes changes to the bone, tendons and ligaments causing inflammation.
In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis affects approximately 400,000 people in the UK and is an auto-immune disease where the body’s defence system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joint, causing pain and inflammation. Over time, this can interfere with the normal function of the joint, but may also affect other areas of the body. This form of arthritis can affect anyone at any age, but is also more common in those over the age of 40.
Arthritis and exercise
As well as medical treatments that are available, there are things you can do for yourself to relieve arthritis symptoms, slow down progression of this common condition and boost your overall wellbeing, and chief among these is moving more.
Exercise might not always be on the top of your list of things to do when you have pain/stiffness in your joints, but it has been shown to improve symptoms. Generally, being inactive will only weaken your muscles, which can lead to lack of support in your joints, causing increased tightness and elevated pain.
By contrast, being active can not only help strengthen the muscles that support your joints, but also increase their flexibility and stability. Stepping up your activity levels also helps to maintain a healthy body weight, which can help reduce unnecessary strain on damaged joints, as well as improving sleep, which supports body repair. There is also strong evidence to suggest that, with the correct type of exercise and intensity, activity can help to prevent the breakdown of cartilage and reduce inflammation and pain, improving day to day function.
As you can see, there any many proven benefits of being active, but what type of exercise is safe and beneficial?