By J.G. Chayko
I had a very active childhood. I ran through the wooded paths of our local park, swam in the public pool and nearby lakes, rode my bike down quiet country roads and played street hockey with the neighborhood kids. I attended dance classes, theatre rehearsals, played soccer and softball and went on weekend hikes with family and friends.
When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I had to work to stay active.
The winter months are challenging for me, but spring brings an awakening for the earth and my body — it’s an opportunity to focus on more regular exercise to stay healthy.
Research proves that people with arthritis need to keep moving. According to Dr. John Esdaile, Arthritis Research Canada’s Scientific Director, weight lifting strengthens the bones and aerobic activities like running – which increase heart rate – reduce inflammation and help prevent disability for those with arthritis.
But what activities are best when you have arthritis? I try not to let my disease hold me back from doing the things I love. Here are some activities I enjoy during the spring:
- Hiking: Some easy trails in the Vancouver area include Pacific Spirit Park, Stanley Park and Lighthouse Park. The Quarry Rock trail in Deep Cove is slightly more advanced but rewards hikers with an amazing view. Also, for a lovely day trip, take the ferry to Bowen Island and go for a scenic hike around Killarney Lake.
- Walking: Parks like Burnaby Lake and Trout Lake, the Stanley Park Seawall or even just around the block are great options.
- Swimming: Many community centres/public pools around the Lower Mainland offer public swims, lane swimming and aquafit classes. Plus, after a swim, you can enjoy some relaxation in a hot tub!
- Tai Chi: This activity can easily be done on your own in your favourite park or you can enroll in a tai chi class at one of the many institutes/academies in the Lower Mainland.
- Yoga: The beach is a great place for yoga on warm, dry days.
When the weather is dreary, as it sometimes can be in March, I transform my living room into my own fitness studio using home exercise videos and my Wii game console for some stepping and aerobic programs.
Don’t let arthritis hold you back
With the onset of arthritis, people sometimes abandon activities they think will damage their joints. Jogging is one of those activities.
A recent study by researchers from Arthritis Research Canada and the University of British Columbia’s Department of Physical Therapy revealed Canadians view running as an activity that can damage their knees, but little evidence supports this belief.
What is known is that regular physical activity can reduce inflammation and help people maintain a healthy weight.
We may not be able to undo damage done by arthritis, but we can prevent further progression by adding some cardio exercise into our lives. Those of us with inflammatory autoimmune conditions are more susceptible to heart disease so cardio should be a vital part of every exercise regime. For some, this might mean running and, for others, it could involve fitness classes, swimming or something else.
Exercise is good for the body and mind. It increases endorphins, improves mood, sharpens mental acuity, reduces the symptoms of arthritis, improves sleep, strengthens the body, and keeps the heart healthy.
Exercise starts with motivation and part of that motivation comes from engaging in activities we love. Start slow, ten minutes of activity a day, and then increase by five minutes each time. Choose activities you love to do, and only go as far as your body will allow. Eventually you will be able to do a little more each time. Exercise with a friend or family member to stay motivated and keep a consistent routine.
In Vancouver, we are fortunate to have moderate temperatures and the opportunity for outdoor activities throughout the year. We didn’t choose our disease, but we can choose how to live our best lives with it, so let’s take a cue from the blushing cherry blossoms and take our exercise outdoors to enjoy what life has to offer.