Posts written by Anita Chan

Get moving with arthritis

There are more than 100 different types of arthritis affecting the knees, hips, feet, spine, and hands. Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis and is caused by the breakdown in cartilage in the joints, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Cartilage is a protein substance that acts as a cushion between bones in joints, allowing joints to function smoothly. Risk factors for OA include a family history of the disease, excess body weight, joint injury, repeated overuse of joint, and age.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Marcy O’Koon, senior consumer health director at the Arthritis Foundation, said: “A joint like the knee joint doesn’t have a blood supply, so it needs movement to swish around the fluids that deliver nutrients to the cartilage and other tissues.”

Sports medicine doctor Gabe Mirkin added: “Exercise should be part of treatment for most arthritis because inactivity increases joint damage. Choose a non-impact sport like walking, cycling, swimming or cross-country skiing, or use exercise machines that support your feet, so they don’t pound the ground.”

Speak to your doctor to determine the best exercise treatment plan for your disease. To help motivate yourself, find an exercise buddy and schedule your exercise into your daily routine. Start with a light warmup, such as stretching and range of motion exercises, to get past the discomfort. Increase intensity or duration of exercise when you feel comfortable doing so. Below are some exercises and tips to consider:

  1. Walking – It is simple, low-impact, and requires no special equipment or facility. Walking helps to build cardiovascular fitness and strength, reduces pain, and improves mood. Consider using walking poles.
  2. Aquatic exercises – Common aquatic exercises include water walking and water jogging. These exercises are low-impact and strengthen many of the same muscles as the land equivalent versions.
  3. Yoga – Helps to reduce knee pain and stiffness and enhance physical functioning. Talk to your healthcare professionals to determine the best yoga exercises for your disease. Avoid doing poses that put too much pressure on one foot and leg or bend the knee too far.
  4. Exercise in moderation – If you are an experienced athlete living with arthritis pain, consider adjusting your exercise routines – going for shorter distances, decreasing intensity and frequency of exercise, or biking instead of running.
  5. Use of exercise tools – Tools such as walking poles, knee braces and cushioned footwear can alleviate the stress and weight on your knees.
  6. Proper preparation – Applying a heating pad or hot pack to your joints or taking a warm shower or bath before exercising can help loosen your muscles and joints. If you plan to exercise outdoor, plan according to the weather. Stay hydrated while you exercise. When exercising in a gym, ensure you know how to work the equipment.

O’Koon’s words of encouragement: “Getting started is tough for people with arthritis, no doubt about it. But once you become consistent, exercise is self-reinforcing, because it gets easier, you lose weight, you gain strength, you experience less pain, and you feel better emotionally.”

Interesting read on hiking and backpack weigh

In recent decades, research shows that by the end of their teen years, close to 60 percent of youths experience at least one low-back pain episode. This may be because of the improper use and weight of the backpacks. Here’s an interesting read we came across that may help you plan your summer hiking trips with friends and children. The article asks this important question: How much should your backpack weigh?

Please note there are lots of determining factors for pack weight. It is tough to give an exact weight recommendation for every hiker. Talk to your physicians to explore your personal options. According to the original article, below are some general guidelines when determining your pack weight:

  • A loaded backpacking pack should not weigh more than about 20 percent of your body weight. (If you weigh 150 pounds, your pack should not exceed 30 pounds for backpacking.)
  • A loaded day hiking pack should not weigh more than about 10 percent of your body weight. (If you weigh 150 pounds, your pack should not exceed 15 pounds for hiking.)

Following these guidelines will keep your pack at a manageable weight. However, the weight ratio may not work for everyone. The following excerpt includes factors that may affect the overall weight of your pack:

  • Trip duration: The longer your trip, the more food, water and fuel you’ll need to carry, which, of course, adds weight to your pack. Even on multiday adventures, you’ll still want your pack close to 20 percent of your body weight, so you’ll need to be extra thoughtful about the gear and clothing you’re carrying to compensate for all that extra gear.
  • Season/weather: If you’re heading out in frigid temps, you’ll need to have warmer, heavier clothing and gear than if you’re trekking in sunny summer weather.
  • Personal preference: Some people value comfort at camp and are willing to accept the inherent weight that comes with hauling in luxuries like a hammock, extra clothes and a thick, cushy sleeping pad. Others are OK with wearing the same clothes for days on end and sleeping on a lightweight pad.

Tips for reducing backpack weight

  1. Know your base weight (how much your loaded pack weighs, minus “consumables,” such as food, water, and fuel). The base weight includes items with a consistent weight that do not change from trip to trip.
  2. Weigh your gear to determine what to bring or remove from your pack. Keeping a spreadsheet is helpful for comparing items and planning your adventure.
  3. Replace old gear with lighter and smart gear. For example, bring a packable down jacket, clothing with SPF and UV protection, or emergency freeze-dried food.
  4. Eliminate unnecessary items (i.e., cellphone charger, selfie sticks).
  5. Repackage items or use travel-sized items (i.e., take granola bars out of boxes, pack nuts into small bags).
  6. Share the weight between your hiking buddies or take turns carrying heavier items.

Exercising to reduce your risk of falling

Everyone is at risk for falls, no matter what your age is. Falls can happen at home, in the community, or while you are walking or doing other activities. The best activities to reduce falls include those that improve muscle strength in the legs and improve balance, posture, and stamina. Muscles tend to get weaker and balance becomes harder if we don’t continue to remain active.

Below is an excerpt from Vancouver Coastal Health’s “Prevent falls: Stay on your feet!” brochure on how to improve muscle strength and balance:

Check your leg strength:

  • Can you get out of a chair safely without using your arms?
  • Can you do it three times in a row?

Check your balance:

  • For safety, try this test while standing near the kitchen counter. Can you safely stand on one leg for 5-12 seconds without holding on to anything or anyone?

What you can do:

  • Get up from a chair three times in a row, without using your arms, whenever you can.
  • Go up and down stairs to keep your legs strong. Make sure you use the hand rail.
  • Walk as much as you can. If you become tired quickly or feel unsteady, a four-wheeled walker with a seat and a basket is a great idea. Have a professional help you buy the right one.
  • Bend and straighten your legs when you are watching TV. Add small weights to your ankles.
  • Mark out a walking path in your house if the weather is bad. Imagine you are walking to Hawaii.
  • Call your community centre, seniors centre, or church to find out what activity programs are offered.
  • Do a few exercises when you make yourself a cup of tea or get a glass of water.
  • See the Strength and Balance Exercises on the next page.
  • Make your activities fun.

Exercises

These simple exercises can help improve your strength and balance. Only do the exercises you feel safe and comfortable doing. It may be safer and easier to do just a couple of exercises at a time. If you have increased pain or a significant increase in shortness of breath, stop exercising immediately. Stand up straight. Hold onto the edge of the kitchen counter if you need to for safety. As this gets easier, try to hold on less.

Infographic showing exercises you can do at your desk

Here are some of the recommended physical activity programs, often found at your local community center:

  • Balance training, e.g., Tai Chi
  • Strength training – using weights or resistance
  • Walking
  • Water fitness
  • Dancing

Remember: Strength and balance can reduce your risk of falling by 50%.

Speak with your doctor or health care provider about any medical condition which may affect your ability to do these exercises.

Infographic showing exercises you can do at your desk

Please click here to read the full brochure or visit Vancouver Coastal Health Fall and Injury Prevention online at www.fallprevention.vch.ca.