Although many people still believe that people who have arthritis cannot exercise, it is not true. People with arthritis can and should exercise if possible. Regular exercise can reduce the discomfort associated with arthritis, increase joint range of motion, and improve mental health.
Before beginning an exercise program, keep these important things in mind:
- Please see a healthcare provider to talk about how to exercise in a way that is safe and relevant for you.
- Start slowly and listen to your body.
- Spend 5–15 minutes warming up and cooling down before exercising.
- If you’re having a day where your joints are swollen and uncomfortable, it’s okay to choose gentle movement (like tai chi or a short, relaxed walk) and stretches instead of a higher intensity workout.
You can engage in physical activity in other ways besides conventional exercise, like:
- Taking stretching breaks throughout your day
- Stretch while watching TV
- Gardening (and taking rest breaks throughout)
- Going for a stroll around the block with your family or friends
Using exercise as a tool to manage your chronic health condition will look and feel different than exercising does for the general population, and that’s okay. Your goals are different from their goals, and what your body can do and the things that you’d like it to do are different as well. Before beginning an exercise program to help manage your psoriatic arthritis, it is important to work with a trained health professional like a kinesiologist or physiotherapist when possible so that you can have a program that is safe and sustainable. Working with a health professional who understands how to minimize flare-ups and gently increase your body’s abilities can make exercise and daily activities more comfortable and enjoyable for you.
Here are a few things to think about when getting back into exercising:
- Do you prefer working out alone or in a group?
- What classes are offered in your community?
- Do you prefer working out indoors or outside?
- Do you prefer exercising at home or in public?
- What footwear and attire are comfortable for you and appropriate for the activities you’re planning to do?
- What’s your back-up plan if something changes your normal routine? (Plan solutions for barriers that may come up, like where and when and how you exercise)
- Set your goals using the S.M.A.R.T method:
- Realistic and
- Example: “I would like to walk 1 km in under 8 minutes by December 31st”
- By making a goal specific (setting a specific quantity of something you would like to achieve, e.g., walk 1 km), having a way to measure how successful you were in achieving the goal (were you able to complete the task in the desired time of 8 minutes by the deadline?), making the goal attainable and realistic for your current ability levels and the amount of time you can put toward them (is 1 km too far of a distance, too short of a distance, or the correct distance for your current abilities and the timeline you’ve set out?), and by giving your goal a reasonable deadline (can you achieve this goal by December 31st?), you’re more likely to set yourself up for success.
As someone with psoriatic arthritis, slowly and gradually increasing the amount and type of exercise you do is safest. Slowly incorporating a combination of stretching, strengthening, and endurance exercises that help to improve the function of your joints can decrease pain and discomfort to allow you to lead your life to the fullest.
Flexibility is how much you can bend or stretch out your joints and muscles. Your range of motion (ROM) is how far you can move a joint in certain directions (for example, how much your knees can bend or how far you can turn your head to the side). Stretching is lengthening the muscles to helping maintain or restore normal flexibility to the joint's muscles. Both stretching and strengthening the muscles can help to improve your flexibility and range of motion. The kinds of stretches and exercises will vary based on what joint you’re focusing on, and especially with an inflammatory condition, it’s safest to do them under the guidance of a health care professional.
There are some tips to keep in mind when doing flexibility exercises:
- Performing the exercise while either lying down or sitting can allow your body to be more relaxed while stretching
- Moving your joints through their range as much as you can tolerate without pain (some discomfort, soreness, or feeling a sensation in the muscle that is being stretched is okay, but pain is not)
Resistance training (sometimes called strength training) can help with muscle, bone, and joint health. Strengthening activities are any activities that work your muscles, including weightlifting and performing bodyweight exercises. Weight-bearing activities – like walking, running, or lifting weights – can also strengthen your bones and joints, which is very important for people who have psoriatic arthritis.
These are some tips to keep in mind when doing strength exercises:
- When starting an exercise routine, make sure you rest that part of the body for 48-72 hours after that session
- Start with bodyweight exercises, lighter weights, or low resistance bands – exercise is type of stress on the body, and doing too much, too soon can lead to flares
- Rest in between each set (round of an exercise) and between different exercises (about 45-60 seconds)
- Alternate which parts of the body you train throughout the workout to allow your muscles some time to rest during the session – rest is important to recover and increase strength (for example, if you do a bench press, follow it up with a lower body exercise instead of a push-up so that you don’t work the same muscle groups two exercises in a row)
Endurance exercises, including walking, swimming, and cycling, help to improve your ability to do things for a longer period of time. You can also improve your muscular endurance (how long your muscles can repeat a movement or hold a position) by performing a higher number of repetitions of an exercise at a much lower weight/resistance level (starting with just your body weight). Fluid, repetitive, gentle motions like walking, cycling, or tai chi can be beneficial for people with arthritis, so slowly incorporating gentle endurance exercises and activities into a routine can help to manage your condition.