Whole body fitness when you have arthritis

Even when you're just striving to improve your muscles' function, doing exercises that concentrate on a single muscle ("isolating" that muscle) can build strength in critical areas that support arthritic joints. But it's just as important to make your muscles work together. That, after all, is how the body operates in real life.

Whole body fitness when you have arthritis

Your mechanical system

Physiologists think of the body as a mechanical system of many segments in which forces applied to one joint can cause a chain reaction of effects in other joints through the levers of the skeleton and the muscles. (They call it the kinetic chain.)

Sometimes these effects can be predicted. For example, if you have arthritis in one knee, the way you move your body to compensate raises your risk of developing arthritis in the opposite knee and hip.

Work your muscles in everyday ways

Physiologists say that in addition to exercises that work specific muscles, it's important to do exercises or activities that work bones, joints and muscles in ways they actually function in day-to-day activities such as climbing stairs or getting out of a chair.

As an example, if you have arthritis in the knee, you shouldn't just work to strengthen muscles supporting that joint, but build strength throughout the rest of your body as well.

"Everything is connected to everything else," says Virginia Kraus, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the Arthritis Rehabilitation Program at Duke University Center for Living. "So it's important to do a variety of exercises, such as aerobic walking in addition to a range of strength exercises."

That's an important message. So be sure to keep it and the importance of strengthening your muscles for everyday use in mind.

But what does strengthening your muscles for everyday use mean in practice?

It means that you shouldn't just limit yourself to the exercises that target your problem spot. Indeed, as important as it is to learn exercises properly, it is just as important to learn how to put them together into a sequence that is absolutely best for you and your needs.

If you're unsure how to create this kind of sequence, then talk to your doctor about exercising with arthritis for some helpful advice.

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