The key to loosening up arthritic joints? Move ‘em
Charlie Spencer Lackey was facing stomach surgery last fall that she was hoping to avoid. She suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease, more commonly referred to as GERD; her doctor mentioned one option that could preempt surgery: start exercising, lose some weight. Eager as she was to avoid the surgery, another malady made exercise a challenge.
“I have rheumatoid arthritis,” says the 59-year-old Raleigh resident.
She found a solution less than five minutes from her front door: at the Optimist Park Pool.
“I came over one day and asked to see the pool,” says Lackey. “They were real friendly.” And she discovered that the walking she tried to do around her neighborhood was so much easier on her joints in three feet of water.
Today, Lackey walks in the pool for one hour, three times a week. She’s dropped a dress size, she’s more limber, her joint pain has diminished, she sleeps at night and she’s taken the next step in her water rehab: She’s learning to swim.
Lackey’s example is a reminder to the estimated 50 million U.S. adults who suffer from arthritis: exercise can help.
“People who have arthritis are often scared to exercise because they think they will hurt themselves, but the condition will only get worse if people don't get moving,” Valerie Walkowiak, medical integration coordinator at the Loyola Center for Fitness in Maywood, Ill.
Walkowiak says all all arthritis sufferers can benefit from some form of exercise, be it osteoarthritis — the most common form, in which cartilage deteriorates, leaving joints with no cushion between bones — and rheumatoid arthritis, in which inflammation causes joints to lose shape and alignment.
Some quick tips:
- All types of arthritis can benefit from stretching, to increase range of movement.
- Lifting light weights is good for building muscle strength, which can take pressure off joints.
- Aerobic exercise, such as walking is good. Start slow, she advises, with 10 to 15 minutes of exercise a day. "As your body adapts to the new routine, gradually increase duration to 30 to 45 minutes."
- Other good exercise options for the arthritic: water aerobics, stationary cycling, gardening, swimming, yoga and Tai-Chi.
Walkowiak says to consult your doctor before starting an exercise routine. To optimize your results, she advises working with a therapist or personal trainer.
Lackey is sold on her new exercise routine, a routine that keeps on giving. The lack of pain she experiences from her one-hour water walks lingers for a good day or two.
“Oh, I feel good,” she beams. “I feel wonderful.”
Photo: Pools are especially good workout venues for arthritis sufferers.