Wondering if walking is really good for your arthritis, and if so, how can you manage your pain in way to stay active on a regular basis? This in-depth article covers it all on walking for arthritis, and more!
Written by: Coach Todd
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise you can do when you have arthritis. In fact, walking helps to mobilize joint fluid (called synovial fluid) to lubricate joints and provide nutrients to cartilage.
But if you have pain after your walking workout due to arthritis, you may feel like walking will only aggravate the problem, but it won’t!
Plenty of individuals have asked, “Is walking good for arthritis in the knee or hip?” and here is the research designed to find the answer. Scientists have found these 10 common benefits of walking with arthritis:
Walking wards off heart disease, strengthens the heart rate, and lowers blood pressure. Women who walk 30 minutes a day can reduce their risk of stroke by 20%, and by 40% when they stepped up the pace, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.
Walking can stop the loss of bone mass for those with osteoporosis, according to Michael A. Schwartz, MD, of Plancher Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in New York. In fact, one study of post-menopausal women found that 30 minutes of walking each day reduced their risk of hip fractures by 40%.
Research finds that people who exercise regularly in their fifties and sixties are 35% less likely to die over the next eight years than their non-walking counterparts. That number shoots up to 45% less likely for those who have underlying health conditions.
Walking releases natural painkilling endorphins to the body. A California State University, Long Beach, study showed that the more steps people took during the day, the better their moods were.
A brisk 30-minute walk burns 200 calories and increases your resting metabolism. Over time, calories burned can lead to pounds dropped.
Walking tones your leg and abdominal muscles – and even arm muscles on occasion. This increases your range of motion, shifting the pressure and weight from your joints to your muscles.
Waling not only provides energy for the day but also puts us to rest in a better state. Studies found that women, ages 50 to 75, who took one-hour morning walks, were more likely to relieve insomnia than women who didn’t walk at all.
The majority of joint cartilage has no direct blood supply. It gets its nutrition from joint fluid that circulates as we move. Movement and compression from walking “squishes” the cartilage, bringing oxygen and nutrients into the area.
Reduced Mental Decline
A study from the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville found that men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked more than a quarter of a mile per day had half the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who walked less.
When walking, your breathing rate increases, causing oxygen to travel faster through the bloodstream. This constant filtration of nutrients helps to eliminate waste products, improve energy levels, and increases the ability to heal.
Along with these 10 powerful benefits, aerobic walking and resistance exercise programs have been shown to reduce the incidence of disability for people who are older than 65 and have symptomatic OA.
For those living in near-constant pain every day, where do they start?
Before You Start a Walking Program with Arthritis
Before starting a new exercise routine, talk with your doctor. They’ll help you to consider the current limits of your joints and provide ways to work within those limits. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help create a personalized walking plan that gives you the most benefit without aggravating your joint pain. However, here are some additional tips to help protect your joints when walking:
Pick the Right Walking Gear
To prep for your walk, be sure to choose the right shoes. Look for proper arch support, a firm heel, and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. The toe box should be roomy, and not too long. As well, walking poles may relieve pressure on the joints and assist with balance and stability.
Lastly, to stay hydrated, drink a few cups of water 15 minutes before you start walking, and another few cups after you cool down. If you’re going for a longer walk, keep a water bottle handy and have a drink of water every 20 minutes or so while you exercise.
You might do five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time or distance a few minutes the next week. Your doctor or physical therapist can help structure a program that’s right for you. Or, you can follow this gentle progression:
Build-Up to 150 Minutes Per Week
The above breakdown plays into this tip as well. Performing 150 minutes of activity works out to 30 minutes a day, five days a week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. You can even split that time into 10-minute blocks if your struggle with chronic fatigue.
Adjust Your Routine as Needed
Listen to your body. If you wake up with a lot of stiffness, gentle exercises and other strategies may be helpful, but going for a longer walk may be more challenging. Joint pain varies day to day, so it’s important to modify your walking distance and time based on how you are feeling.
Move your joints gently at first to ease your body into movements. You might begin with range-of-motion exercises for five to 10 minutes before you move on to aerobic exercise. And when you do start walking, focus on landing softly with each stride.
Stop If Anything Hurts
Take a break if your joints start to ache — sit on a bench for a minute or two and engage in some easy breathing before continuing. If the pain is sharp and stabbing, or you feel any new joint pain, it’s time to stop for the day. Talk to your doctor about what pain is normal and when it’s a sign of something more serious.
The above are great strategies to begin your walking regimen.
But for those still wondering, “Is walking good for arthritis in the hip or knee, specifically? I’m not sure my OA pain can take this…” Try following the below strategies for managing your arthritic pain while walking.
Managing Your Pain When Walking for Arthritis
You can relieve your OA pain with some smart moves before and after your walk. The key is to perform these activities regularly, not just when in pain. Try including one of these strategies for a few weeks on a regular basis and see how you feel.
Walk When You Feel Good
Plan on walking when you usually feel good. Are your joints stiff in the morning? Head out in the afternoon. If you take a pain reliever, go for a stroll when it kicks in.
Take a warm shower, apply warm washcloths, or a heating pad in the half hour before your walk. The heat relaxes your joints and helps circulate blood to your muscles before any movement is necessary.
Massage It Out
Give yourself a massage. Gently rub the muscles around your aching joint 10 minutes prior to your walk. This boosts blood flow to the area.
Ice Those Joints
After you exercise, ice your joints for up to 20 minutes. This can relieve any swelling as well as excess inflammation signals causing your pain.
Stay the Course
Remember, consistency is key to reducing joint pain when walking. But if you still can’t seem to resist the call of the couch, try these steps to boost your motivation:
- Track Your Progress: You can use a journal or exercise app to record how far, how long, and how often you walk. On top of keeping yourself accountable, it helps to remember where you’re at in your journey.
- Wear a Pedometer: Research suggests that keeping count of your steps encourages you to move more. Make every day a new challenge to keep walking farther.
- Join Forces with Friends: Meeting up with others can make walking more fun. It also holds you accountable, so you’re less likely to skip a workout. Find a friend to buddy up with, or join a local walking group.
While walking for arthritis may look different for everyone, the above strategies can be used, in conjunction with your doctor, to help start you on the right path towards an active, pain-free lifestyle!