Secrets to Success: 33 Ways to Fine-Tune Your Arthritis Action Plan

This collection of secrets and tips provides just what you’ll need to add safety, movement, and overall enhancement to your fitness and exercise routines:

1. Keep your eyes open. You may be tempted to close your eyes during exercise so you can concentrate on your muscles or breathing. Don’t. Balance relies on visual input to the brain; keep your eyes open to steady yourself.

2. Stand corrected. Many exercise guides tell you to start standing exercises with your feet shoulder-width apart. If you have arthritis, plant your feet hip-width apart. This narrower distance puts your knees, hips, and feet in alignment for good posture and improved biomechanics.

3. Keep support nearby. During standing exercises, use — or keep within easy grasp — a sturdy chair, countertop, or even wall, to maintain your balance and reduce the risk of injury.

4. Build abs with reps. Ready to enhance your abdominal workout? Once you’ve mastered the most difficult version of a given exercise, try adding a repetition at least every other time you do the exercise.

5. Know which side. If pain or decreased range of motion makes walking difficult, use a cane or rolling walker in the hand opposite the painful knee or hip.

6. Consider a splint. If overzealous exercising makes joint pain flare up, give the injured area a rest. A splint will temporarily stabilize the joint and keep you from hurting it further. You can buy splints over the counter at a drugstore or get them fitted by an occupational therapist. You can buy splints for fingers, hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.

7. Know the limits. If you’ve had total hip or knee replacement, check with your doctor before doing any exercises. These procedures eliminate certain moves from your repertoire for at least two to six months after surgery. You should, for example, avoid exercises that involve high-impact stress on the lower extremities, leg adduction (moving legs inward against resistance), or flexing the new joint beyond 90 degrees.

8. Use good gear. Theoretically, anything heavy can be used for resistance exercises — milk jugs filled with sand or bags of rice. Such ad hoc gear may keep your equipment costs down, but most resistance exercises are more effective, more comfortable, and safer if you use equipment designed for fitness use.

9. Do it softly… and twice. If you find a particular stretch difficult, don’t push it. Instead, do the stretch as well as you can twice, resting in between. The repeated lengthening of your muscles will provide an extra degree of flexibility.

10. Add sets, not weights. A more intense exercise is usually taken to mean one involving heavier weights. But the issue is the overall volume of exercise, not just the weight of resistance. If you want to make an exercise more intense but find additional resistance to be uncomfortable, you can add sets or repetitions for an extra challenge.

11. Be consistent. Always start exercises on the same side of the body. Consistency makes keeping track of repetitions easier, especially when one repetition is completed only after both sides of the body have performed the movement.

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12. Get a beat on pain. To make exercise more comfortable, try applying heat to painful joints or taking pain-relieving medications before you start. Be careful not to push yourself too hard during the workout. Analgesics can mask “good” pain that would otherwise tell you to hold back.

13. Try intervals: If walking seems too tame, but running is too hard on your joints, try a technique called interval training, in which you crank up the pace periodically — but only for short spurts. Example: Walk at your normal pace for 5 minutes, then walk much faster for 30 seconds — then slow back down to your usual stride for another 5 minutes and repeat. This sequence boosts intensity, but poses minimal risk of injury.

14. Grip the bike right. Grip the handlebars firmly enough to control the bike, but loosely enough to keep hand and arm muscles from being unnecessarily tense. Keep your elbows slightly bent.

15. Leave the pool well. Finish off your water workout by using a fitness trick to get out of the pool. Go to the shallow end and stand with your back against the side of the pool. Reach back to place your palms on the edge of the pool and jump up so that you sit on the edge. Assisted by the buoyancy of your body in the water, this movement works your arms, shoulders, chest, and back.

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