Friday, August 10, 2012

Arthritis and exercise

This could be a very short post.  I could write ...

Exercise is great.  If you have arthritis, you should exercise.  Period.

But, you'd probably like a few more details.

Well first, as in the previous post on arthritis that focused on diet, there are some overarching principles that guide my thinking.

1.  Our physical body is called a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and we are exhorted to glorify God in our bodies.  We could spend a long time trying to figure out how this works out practically in our lives, but I will simply say here that I believe that it matters what we do with our bodies.  We can live in our physical bodies in such a way that we show something of the beauty and glory of who God is or we can misuse and abuse them so that His image in us is obscured.

2.  How we treat our bodies can aid us in drawing closer to God or it can hinder us.  What I am not saying here is excellent physical health = excellent spiritual health.  Like you, I know many people for whom illness or disability has been a key element in sanctification.  However, I also know others whose laxity in caring for their physical bodies mirrors a laxity in the care of their souls.

3.  There are many physical/athletic analogies in Scripture.  Understanding these athletic images helps us to understand some essential facets of the Christian life - perseverance, discipline, hardship, focusing on the goal of our striving to name a few.  In 2008, at the time of the last Olympics, my husband/coach/cycling partner/personal trainer/masseur who also happens to be a pastor preached a series of sermons on "The Race of Faith."  As a former track, cross-country, and marathon runner and a lifelong athlete, the running analogies have particular appeal to him.  If you are interested, you can follow this link and find this series of sermons and devotions, with a couple of video links to great races and interviews. (scroll to the bottom of this page for the first devotion and/or use the Race of Faith link in the sidebar of the page to access all the sermons.)

OK, now let's talk about exercise...

During a recent visit to my rheumatologist, my doc and I spent the majority of the time discussing my triathlon training and goals and my current great decrease in pain and increase in function.  While she couldn't say for sure why I feel so much better, she posited that it could be due to the increased release of endorphins in my body due to more strenuous exercise. Endorphins are the body's natural pain relief and there could be a link, she felt, between my increase in exercise and decrease in pain.  (This appointment was a real joy for several reasons.  The doctor never once mentioned drugs, she was thorough and hands-on, carefully examining all the joints in my hands and looking at x-rays with me, and we talked a long time about both of us.   I love knowing my doctor as a person not just a dispenser of medication!)

Whatever the reason for my improvement and whether or not the pain stays away or returns, I know, and Dr. Z heartily affirms, that it is essential for people with arthritis to exercise.  It can be hard, though.  If you are hurting, one of the last things you feel like doing is exercising.  The wonderful thing is, though,  that when you do start moving, if you start slowly and take care to exercise in a way that doesn't stress painful joints, you will start to feel better ... and better ... and better.
"This makes sense, when you consider that movement lubricates your joints and enhances elasticity in your tendons and ligaments.  Motion is lotion.  If you rest, you rust."  Dr. Nicholas DiNubile in Framework: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints.
But what kind of exercise?  In all the reading I've been doing lately on triathlons, as well as books and articles on arthritis and exercise, I keep coming across four different forms of exercise that are all necessary:

1) aerobic exercise - think running, swimming, cycling, anything that gets large muscle groups moving, your breathing a bit faster and deeper and your heart beating faster

2) stretching - think slow movements, yoga-like, some Pilates

3) strength training - think weights or anything with resistance, core strengthening (though my knowledge of Pilates is limited, it seems to be a great combination of stretching and core strengthening)

4) range of motion - these are exercises targeted at specific joints

Rather than repeating what lots of folks have written elsewhere, I'm going to give you a few links and a couple of book recommendations.  I am not an exercise scientist or a physical therapist.  I'm not an expert ... but just someone who is currently reaping the benefits of increased exercise and eager for any of my readers (especially any readers with RA, any other kind of arthritis, or any chronic condition) to experience those benefits, too!

So here are a few links:
Arthritis and Exercise (from npr)
A good article on core strengthening exercises with picture and instructions
RA and exercise with links to exercises in all three areas
Very thorough article from the CDC with recommended guidelines
Range of motion exercises (scroll down on the page for links to individual videos)

And a couple of books:
Framework (quoted above) I'm reading this now
Spark by John J. Ratey (after talking with Dr. Z about exercise and brain health, too, I am looking forward to reading this one)

Whew, I've been sitting at the computer far too long this morning!  It's time to get up and move. Actually today is going to be a really fun training day because today's the day I mentioned last week that my good friend, Amber, and I will pedal to Cabarrus Creamery.  I've never biked for  ice cream before ... except maybe when I was a kid.  It'll be a fun celebratory ending to a good ride!  It's 11 miles with some nice rolling hills so I think we'll earn our ice cream!

1 comment:

Kathie said...

Such an interesting article Beth - my runner husband would be interested in that sermon series too!

Mmm - biking for lemon ice cream!! my favourite flavour. Saw that on fb :)

A sumptuous feast in your last post! And such a sweet picture of hugging your boy - I know the feeling!

Love to you