Exercise Is the No. 1 Prescription for Arthritis
Not so long ago, seniors who were diagnosed with arthritis were told to take it easy and "rest their joints." But we now know that advice was based on an incomplete understanding of the importance of physical activity in building up the muscles and surrounding tissue that support the joints.
The rocking chair days are over. We now know that exercise is vital for managing osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and most other forms of arthritis. Physical activity reduces the pain, stiffness and fatigue that interfere with daily activities. It helps control other chronic conditions that make arthritis worse, such as heart disease and diabetes. Exercise also helps control obesity. Being overweight is very hard on the joints: According to a study from Wake Forest University, each pound of body weight we gain adds four pounds of pressure onto each knee joint!
Yet many seniors are apprehensive about exercising. Dr. Patience H. White of the Arthritis Foundation says, "We often find that people with arthritis are fearful of physical activity because they think they will hurt themselves or it's too painful, but the condition and pain only get worse when movement stops." She adds, "Moving just 30 minutes daily, even 10 to 15 minutes at a time, can ease joint pain, improve mobility and reduce fatigue often associated with arthritis."
It’s important to exercise ... but equally important to exercise correctly. People who are living with arthritis should ask their healthcare provider about an exercise "prescription." The doctor will take into account the type of arthritis they have and which joints are affected. Most likely, the exercise program will include a combination of aerobic exercise, muscle-strengthening activities and balance training, along with stretching for flexibility. Low-impact exercise is usually recommended and might include swimming or water aerobics, brisk walking, bicycling and dancing. Special "joint-friendly" exercise classes for people with arthritis are offered in many communities. Physical therapists can develop a customized exercise program that yields the most benefit with the least stress on joints.
In-Home Care Supports an Arthritis Exercise Program
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly one in five American adults has arthritis—that’s 46 million people. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in seniors. With the aging of our population, managing arthritis will become increasingly important. Researchers are developing new medications and other interventions, but physical activity will always be of central importance.
A recent Caring Right at Home poll asked readers their opinion about the best way to encourage senior loved ones to exercise. Forty-seven percent responded: "Exercise along with them." This is a great idea! However, not all family caregivers are able to provide the support for their loved one's recommended exercise program. In-home care providers recognize this and are tailoring their services accordingly.
Most seniors prefer to live independently in their own house or apartment, and professional in-home care helps many older adults do just that. In-home caregivers provide assistance with personal care, grooming and homemaking tasks. And for seniors who are living with arthritis, professional in-home caregivers support joint health in several important ways:
Caregivers provide an extra measure of confidence. Many seniors with arthritis are afraid they will fall, and this fear tempts them to stick close to the couch. The presence of a caregiver lets them know they are not alone, and the caregiver can provide a steady hand if steps are steep or surfaces are uneven. In-home caregivers also remove any hazards in the home, such as clutter or loose throw rugs that might cause a client to trip.
Caregivers can provide transportation. Arthritis makes it difficult and sometimes even unsafe to drive. But even though most seniors prefer to live at home, that doesn’t mean they want to stay home all day! In-home caregivers transport seniors to healthcare appointments, to exercise classes at the local senior center, to water aerobics at the pool, to the mall for a half-hour of walking—whatever activity senior clients prefer.
In-home caregivers prepare delicious meals that meet senior clients’ dietary requirements. A nutritious diet is so important to promote healthy joints and a healthy weight, but joint pain makes it hard to cook. In-home caregivers prepare healthy meals from wholesome ingredients—so much better than relying on prepackaged foods that are full of empty calories.
Caregivers provide support for medication management. Medications help many arthritis patients manage inflammation and pain, but it is very important to take them correctly and at the right time. An in-home aide can provide medication reminders, take your loved one to the pharmacy or pick up prescriptions, help organize medications, and report any side effects.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month. The Arthritis Foundation offers information and exercise programs, including the "Let’s Move Together" resource and FightArthritisPain. The Foundation also holds the annual Arthritis Walk to raise awareness and funds to fight the disease.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on using physical activity to ease arthritis pain, including a five-minute "Arthritis Pain Reliever" video and a simple, easy-to-follow set of guidelines.
For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Speak to your doctor if you have questions about arthritis management and exercise.
Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services.