Over the weekend I attended and spoke at the Wellness North Expo. I had the privilege of listening to several other speakers and two of them were medical professionals with expertise in arthritis care (one was a Rheumatologist). Arthritis is a chronic disease that causes painful inflammation and stiffness in the joints, and this usually means that people have a limited ability to move and are therefore often inactive. This is understandable as it feels counterintuitive to move when joints are painful. Unfortunately, this can create a spiral of gaining weight, increasing joint pain with the added weight, and continued inactivity. Some of the statistics I learned were staggering:
20.4% of Canadians over the age of 15 years have a diagnosis of arthritis. 1 out of 5 Canadians have arthritis.
Women are more likely to have arthritis (almost 60% of people with arthritis are women).
Almost 50% of people over 65 years have arthritis.
I am not sure why I was surprised with these numbers, our clientele at Active Health Solutions matches these stats almost perfectly. But I suppose I’d never thought of the larger societal numbers of people struggling with arthritis, and they seem to be increasing.
In all of the presentations the speakers said that exercise and maintaining a health body weight was important, but neither one offered solutions. Based on our experience and current work, here are a few suggestions and starting places.
The first priority is working on range of motion and stretching. Flexibility around the affected arthritic joints must be maintained and then increased. After an initial diagnosis and physiotherapy, many of our participants begin at a pool and in our Rehab Classes (which can be targeted to the affected arthritic or replaced joint) and then transition to Restore. Restore is the first level in our Vitality Series and participants work on alignment and range of motion of the major joints.
After flexibility has been increased, the next priority is muscular strength and endurance. Rejuvenate and Invigorate are closely connected and the next two classes in the Vitality Series. Rejuvenate builds on the mobility gains and adds some strengthening and endurance to the participants repertoire of exercises of the major muscles and joints. Participants do not move down to the floor level in Rejuvenate but are required to get up and down to floor level in Invigorate, which is another progression in building strength and mobility.
The final priority is increasing cardiovascular endurance. Excel is a circuit-based class that will increase heart health with a more vigorous approach to exercise.
We have participants with arthritis in every class and we are able modify exercises to ensure safety and appropriate level of activity. Exercise is better than any medication to manage arthritis long-term as it will help decrease joint paint and fatigue (with no negative side effects). Physical activity has not been shown to worsen arthritis and does help people manage the symptoms and flair-ups. There needs to be a balance between physical activity and rest but working with a knowledgeable exercise professional can be a proactive and positive approach to health care for people with arthritis.