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Exercise and Arthritis: Joint Approval by All!: Energy Express

By Marilynn Preston

The first twinge was in the base of my thumb. It felt like someone was pounding a tiny nail into the joint. Wow! Are my hitchhiking days really over? No, it's just the beginning of arthritis -- not a serious ailment at this stage and entirely treatable. I ran out and bought my first bottle of glucosamine-chondroitin (more of that later) and sat down to update myself on arthritis, the #1 cause of disability in Americans over 15.

You can get arthritis at any age -- 300,000 children have it -- but Baby Boomers are especially vulnerable. According to www.ArthritisFoundation.org -- my newest bookmark -- approximately 66 million Americans, or nearly 1 in 3 adults, have arthritis, and many more women than men.

By Marilynn Preston

The first twinge was in the base of my thumb. It felt like someone was pounding a tiny nail into the joint. Wow! Are my hitchhiking days really over? No, it's just the beginning of arthritis -- not a serious ailment at this stage and entirely treatable. I ran out and bought my first bottle of glucosamine-chondroitin (more of that later) and sat down to update myself on arthritis, the #1 cause of disability in Americans over 15.

You can get arthritis at any age -- 300,000 children have it -- but Baby Boomers are especially vulnerable. According to www.ArthritisFoundation.org -- my newest bookmark -- approximately 66 million Americans, or nearly 1 in 3 adults, have arthritis, and many more women than men. It costs the economy more than $86.2 billion annually. With just a fraction of that money, I'd be tempted to give up hitchhiking forever.

WHAT IS ARTHRITIS? Let's focus on osteoarthritis (instead of rheumatic disease), because it is, by far, the most common kind. It's a degenerative disease that wrecks the cartilage covering the ends of the bones in a joint, any joint, but particularly the weight-bearing ones: hips, knees and spine. As the cartilage wears away, the bones rub against each other, causing pain and loss of movement. It turns out that arthritis of the thumb is also very common, affecting one-third of all women between ages 40 and 75. What a swell club I've joined.

DOES EXERCISE MAKE ARTHRITIS WORSE? Are you crazy? It's just the opposite. A zillion studies show that exercise -- done correctly, protecting the joint -- is one of the best things you can do to reduce the pain and stiffness of arthritis. Exercising squishes nourishing fluid into the arthritic joint, keeping it moist and mobile. Exercise makes you stronger and more flexible. Also, if you do enough of it, exercise helps you lose weight, and the leaner you are, the less stress you put on knee joints, hip joints, etc., which also decreases pain.

Gwen Hyatt, co-founder and president of DSWFitness, has written a comprehensive course book for fitness professionals called "Exercise and Arthritis." Based on the research she's seen and her own 20-plus years of experience, she applauds exercise as a way to improve your energy level, increase or maintain bone muscle density, and dramatically boost your sense of well-being and self-sufficiency. Bottom line? If you have arthritis, you MUST get involved in a proper exercise program.

Here are a few more highlights from Hyatt's book:


  • Non-weight-bearing activities are excellent for arthritis. Swimming is king -- other good ones include rowing and biking. Activities that use smooth, repetitive motions (i.e. walking, cross-country skiing, elliptical training) may also be well tolerated. You have to experiment and see what's best for you.
  • Strength training can also relieve the symptoms of arthritis, but it's important to find a well-informed trainer who understands the basic tenets of joint protection. Proper body mechanics dictate that the joint be used in its most stable position.
  • Expect fatigue. It's a side effect of the disease. A balance between rest and activity is the key. Rest is critical, but too much rest can lead to more stiffness.
  • Pain and discomfort are also side effects of arthritis, but you have to learn to distinguish between normal and abnormal pain. The 2-hour pain rule is useful. If you experience more than normal joint pain two hours after exercise, it's a sign that you have overexerted.
  • Use heat before you exercise. A hot shower or bath, heating pad, or hot towel can decrease pain and stiffness for a while and make exercise easier.

WHAT ELSE WORKS? It's a myth and a mistake to believe that the only way to control arthritis pain is with drugs. According to a well-researched article in Consumer Reports this June, there are all sorts of useful alternative treatments. Glucosamine-chondroitin has been a miracle remedy for many and is the only nutritional joint supplement to earn CR's seal of approval (they single out Costco's Kirkland Signature as the best buy). Other promising treatments include acupuncture, deep-tissue massage, over-the-counter creams or gels that contain capsicum (hot pepper), and certain stabilizing devices such as braces or wedge shoe insoles.

Two thumbs up to all of that, I say, but exercise most of all!

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! LEARN TO PACE YOURSELF
ArthritisFoundation.org is a great resource. Be sure to check out their PACE videos: People with Arthritis Can Exercise. But you're already a convert, right?

Marilynn Preston -- fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues -- is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 ENERGY EXPRESS, LTD.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



Categories: Health & Wellness, Women's Health,


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