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Arthritis is a pain, but it doesn't have to limit your activity

North Carolinians are spoiled for choice when it comes to options for staying active outdoors. With the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains to the west, the beaches to the east and the beautiful parks and greenways in between, everyone can find a special spot in our state.

But for people living with arthritis, it’s not always easy to get outside and enjoy being there. Fatigue, joint pain, stiffness and depression make it difficult for arthritis sufferers to be confident in their physical abilities outdoors.

Yet staying physically active can be vital to managing arthritis. Most doctors and experts recommend regular physical activity and appropriate levels of exercise to help ease symptoms and reduce joint pain. Not only that, but outdoor activity can dramatically improve mood and overall mental well-being, helping alleviate some symptoms of depression, an often-overlooked factor for people with chronic conditions like arthritis.

Here are some tips to help people with arthritis get moving and live well in North Carolina’s scenic environments.

Ramp up at your own pace

For many adults with arthritis who have not been exercising regularly, it’s important to ease into an exercise routine. Don’t start with heavy weights, and don’t start doing more than you feel comfortable doing.

To set yourself up for success, learn to be flexible in your expectations. Personalize your activity plans to meet your needs and current ability. That could mean marking a turnaround point on your neighborhood walks or tracking laps on your favorite loop trail in a nearby park. Then, as you feel more comfortable and more able, moderately increase your distance or your speed to slowly build your endurance.

Switch up your form

Getting outside doesn’t have to be about grueling exercises. Most doctors will recommend staying low and going slow. The CDC recommends a mix of activities of light to moderate intensity. Use your local park, beach or beginner-level hiking trail to ease into exercise.

Activities can include:

  • Cardio such as walking, biking, hiking, swimming, gardening
  • Resistance activities using light weights or your own body weight
  • Regular stretching or yoga to maintain flexibility
  • Balance exercises, particularly for people prone to falls

Things to consider before heading outdoors

These tips are particularly important if you intend be active outdoors:

  • Remember to wear comfortable and supportive footwear.
  • Wear clothing that doesn’t restrict your movement and is easy to put on.
  • Wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  • Stay hydrated to mitigate post-exercise fatigue.

Keep in touch with your doctor

Be sure to consult with your doctor, rheumatologist, or other health care provider before beginning any new exercise routines. Take note of how you feel and how you are progressing. If activity makes your pain worse, tell your doctor and adjust your exercise plans accordingly.

North Carolina’s outdoors have something for everybody. The most important thing is to get out there and have fun. Staying active or ramping up your activity level with arthritis can be challenging, but you can choose activities you already enjoy doing or are interested in trying. Your passion for a quiet stroll through the woods or a yoga class in the park could be the key to staying active and living well.

For more information on living well and staying active with arthritis, visit The Arthritis Foundation. You can find diet and exercise tips, pain management strategies and community involvement opportunities in your local Arthritis Foundation chapter.

Larry Wu, MD

Larry Wu, MD

Regional Medical Director

Larry is a regional medical director for Blue Cross NC providing consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease, care management, medical expense and utilization management. He's a family physician with over 20 years in clinical practice, has served as clinic director in the Indian Health Service, Kaiser Permanente and Duke Family Medicine and currently maintains a part-time clinical practice.

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