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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.”

a woman brisk walking alongside a wall

Could walking faster mean living longer?

A study recently published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings has found that walking briskly could add 10-20 years to your life! The project was co-authored by Tom Yates, professor of physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health at the University of Leicester and Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, clinical epidemiologist at the University of Leicester. 

The study lasted for over 10 years and included nearly 475,000 participants. Researchers wanted to see how different measures of physical fitness – specifically walking pace and hand grip strength – are associated with life expectancy, across different levels of obesity. This research area was chosen because there is ongoing debate about the importance of physical fitness and obesity on health outcomes. Researchers measured participant’s walking paces (slow, normal/steady, brisk/fast), hand grip strength and relative body weight using different measures of obesity including body mass index (BMI). Body Mass Index is the measure of body fat based on height and weight and is often used as a key indicator in determining an individual’s health.

Interestingly, the authors found that a person’s walking pace of slow, steady or brisk, was a more powerful predictor of one’s life expectancy than BMI was. Participants who reported having a brisk walking pace had a long-life expectancy, regardless of their BMI. Women’s life expectancy in this category ranged from 86.7 to 87.8 years and men ranged from 85.2 to 86.8 years. Individuals who reported slow walking paces had the slowest life expectancy with 72.4 years for women and 64.8 years for men.

“The findings suggest that perhaps physical fitness is a better indicator of life expectancy than BMI and that encouraging the population to engage in brisk walking may add years to their lives,” stated Yates.

It’s important to note that the study involved self-reported walking paces. It’s possible that there may be an inconsistency between what the researchers would define as slow, steady and brisk walking and what participants considered slow, steady or brisk walking. Nevertheless, this research serves as more scientific evidence for the power of walking!

In July of 2019, many news stations covered the fascinating findings from this study. In Globe and Mail’s coverage, Gareth Nock, national team training coach, provided readers with some “Proper Walking Tips”:

  • Wear the right shoes: Look for sneakers or walking shoes that are flexible and have a good level of support.
  • Watch your posture: Stand tall with your eyes up and your shoulders back. Many people tend to let their heads fall forward so focus on rolling your shoulders back and down and looking ahead. Focus on drawing your navel towards your spine (abdominals braced) to support your lower back and overall posture.
  • Swing your arms: Arms should swing naturally and loosely from the shoulders. Move the opposite arm to the leg that is stepping forward and keep your wrists straight, your hands unclenched and your elbows close to your sides.

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.