Rethinking Physical Activity with Arthritis

Tired of your indoor, winter fitness routine? Turns out you don’t need to hit the gym or a Zoom class to stay active this spring.

According to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, people should focus on their whole day – including physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep – rather than single acts of movement.

Previous guidelines recommended adults, aged 18 and older, hit 150 minutes of physical activity and at least two sessions of strength training per week. The 24-Hour guidelines emphasize that some activity is better than none and that exercise can be spread throughout each day.

“Make the most of your whole day by adding different types of movement at various intensity levels, including physical activity, muscle strengthening activities and standing,” the guidelines state. “The routine rituals of daily living such as casual neighbourhood walks, gardening, household chores and taking stairs instead of the elevator all contribute towards a healthy 24 hours.”

This is good news for people living with different types of arthritis who may experience fatigue or increased pain some days and not be able to stick to a rigid fitness routine.

Movement Matters

Research shows that staying active plays an important role in managing arthritis pain and inflammation and reducing the risk of serious complications like heart attacks and strokes. Yet many people with arthritis do not meet recommended physical activity levels.

“It’s no secret that moving more and sitting less is important for a healthy body, heart, and mind,” said Dr. Linda Li, a senior scientist at Arthritis Research Canada. “But even with these benefits, about 50 per cent of people in Canada are not physically active during their free time, and the rate is even lower in people with arthritis.”

Thinking of exercise as a regular part of each day and finding ways to reduce inactivity can help people of all ages with arthritis take small steps to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“Pain, fatigue, or being unsure of how to exercise safely can lead to a sedentary lifestyle in people with arthritis,” Li said.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Starting Somewhere

The mantra of the 24-Hour Movement Guidelines is “Make your whole day matter. Move more. Reduce sedentary time. Sleep well.” Spring is the perfect time to adopt this philosophy and get moving.

Here are some ways that members of Arthritis Research Canada’s Patient Advisory Board build exercise into their daily routines:

  • Get off the bus early or park further away to get in some extra steps.
  • Perform 10-minute workouts two or three times per day to break up sedentary time and to avoid overdoing it. This will also help build stamina and strength and is easier to manage on days when pain, inflammation and/or fatigue are worse.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Play with your children or grandchildren. Kick a soccer ball around or play basketball. Find a fun game with movements that are comfortable for you.
  • Exercise during Zoom meetings, so you are sitting less.
  • Count daily steps with a health tracker that reminds you to get up and move every hour or after prolonged periods of inactivity.
  • Count daily tasks like gardening and house cleaning as exercise.
  • Explore a new or old favorite park each week.
  • Walk your dog. If you don’t have one, borrow a friend’s dog.
  • Schedule an exercise session with friends over Zoom or outdoors. Social pressure can be very motivating!

Consider adopting a new activity from the above list each week and test what works.

Next Steps

To build a healthy 24-hour lifestyle, slowly add in recommendations from the guidelines:

  • Do moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activities (accumulation of at least 150 minutes per week). You should be slightly out of breath and sweating, can still talk to someone, but would not be able to sing.
  • Try to do muscle strengthening activities using major muscle groups at least twice a week (even one repetition builds strength on bad days).
  • Complete several hours of light physical activities, including standing.
  • Clock no more than three hours of recreational screen time per day.
  • Break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.
  • Get seven to nine hours of quality sleep on a regular basis, with consistent sleep and wake times.

Research in Motion

At Arthritis Research Canada, scientists are working to find ways to help people with arthritis stay active and lead healthy lives. Here is a list of projects you might be interested in:

People with arthritis who exercise regularly report sleeping better, experiencing less pain, having more energy and feeling happier. The benefits are endless, so it’s time to rethink the traditional approach to fitness and get moving this spring.

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