Exercise for all

are adapted
for people
with arthritis
Sunday, April 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:52 p.m. CDT, Friday, June 20, 2008

When people hear the word “exercise,” they often think of a weight room full of bodybuilders or a row of treadmills filled with women staring blankly at a television above them.

But exercise is much more than just lifting weights and running, and it can be adapted to encompass all kinds of people.

Because of disabilities, some people cannot participate in a typical exercise regimen. But this does not mean they can’t or shouldn’t exercise. Many exercise programs offer alternatives that are suitable for all types of people regardless of age, sex or physical abilities.

The American Heart Association’s Web site states that a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease and stroke is physical inactivity. Inactivity can also contribute to other health risks, such as obesity, high blood pressure, a low level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and diabetes. The association says that even modest levels of physical activity are beneficial.

Strenuous weight lifting and running are not recommended for people who have arthritis. Arthritis is an inflammation of a joint and is usually accompanied by pain, swelling and stiffness. It can result from infection, trauma, degenerative changes, metabolic disturbances or other causes.

Because of the pain caused in the joints, people with arthritis are advised not to participate in high-impact exercises. But low-impact exercises can be done in order to maintain strength and relieve some of the pain brought on by arthritis.

The Arthritis Foundation says exercise can minimize pain and stiffness in the joints, help strengthen muscles around the joints, and increase overall flexibility and endurance. Exercise improves a person’s overall health by making the person more energetic, aiding sleep habits and weight-control, decreasing depression and increasing the person’s self-esteem. It also helps protect the person from other health problems like heart disease and osteoporosis.

“The kinds of exercises that are best for people with arthritis depend on how much arthritis the person has,” said Marilee Bomar, assistant director of the Central Missouri Regional Arthritis Center. “One option is yoga, as long as it is not too high-impact and the person can get down on the floor. Another option is aquatic exercise as long as the pool temperature is 83 degrees or above.”


Members of Fabiola Lopez’s PACE class from left to right: Dorothy Rankin, Mary Faurot, Carita Roach and Mary Cathey, squeeze rubber balls between their knees to add resistance to their abdominal muscles.

Doug Henley, yoga instructor for the Parks and Recreation Department and a massage therapist at Alternative Health Therapies, said yoga is very beneficial for people with arthritis.

“Yoga is basically stretching,” he said. “It mobilizes and lubricates the joints, which helps to ease (their) biggest source of pain.”

Henley recommends starting out slowly so as not to overdo it.

“The way I teach is slower, and I incorporate breathing into the exercises and stretches,” Henley said.

Besides yoga, people with arthritis can also participate in special exercise classes. The Arthritis Foundation has developed an exercise program called People with Arthritis Can Exercise. PACE is designed specifically for people with arthritis.

It uses gentle activities to help increase joint flexibility and range of motion and to help maintain muscle strength. It also helps increase overall stamina.

Two levels of PACE classes are available — basic and advanced.

“I’ve been involved with fitness and personal training for over 20 years,” said Fabiola Lopez, a PACE instructor at the Health Connection. “About 10 years ago, I saw a flier for PACE and decided to become certified to teach the classes.”

Lopez teaches both levels of the PACE classes. Basic is for arthritic people who don’t have good range of motion — the entire class is done sitting in a chair.

The advanced class is done standing up and uses weights for conditioning and rubber bands for resistance. Both classes are 30 minutes long, and nurses are always on standby at the Health Connection to check people’s blood pressure if they start to feel faint.

“It’s so interesting to see the improvements that people make when they exercise,” Lopez said. “Things that we take for granted like getting out of a car can be difficult for people with arthritis. It’s rewarding to see how these things come more easily for them because they have taken the class.”

Besides providing physical relief during class, Lopez also promotes body awareness, which can make people with arthritis more comfortable throughout the week.

“I always remind them to always be aware of their posture,” she said. “They will be much more comfortable if they sit tall with their shoulders down and away from their ears. It makes a big difference if they are conscious of these things.”

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