Walking and Arthritis

Katherine Curcuruto, Occupational Therapist
James Bayliss, Health Promotions Officer AQ.

Walking. It's free, low risk and one of the most effective means of reducing the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

Walking is an excellent exercise option for people with arthritis. It's low impact, great for our joints and has amazing benefits for our health and wellbeing. In the lead up to Move it in May we wanted to provide you with some information on the benefits of walking and how you can start a safe and enjoyable walking routine.

Physical activity has the potential to benefit both inflammatory and non-inflammatory forms of arthritis. However, exercise should not be used in isolation, it should form part of your arthritis management plan and be used in conjunction with other strategies prescribed by your healthcare team (e.g. medications, physiotherapy etc.). During flares, particularly those caused by inflammatory conditions, it is important to discuss with your doctor what forms of physical activity are best to help you navigate these tough periods.

Why is walking beneficial for arthritis?

Our Joints 

It may seem a bit counter intuitive to move what hurts, but low impact exercises, such as walking, are the leading non-drug treatment for the pain associated with arthritis. Walking helps boost the circulation of blood around our bodies and by doing so encourages the flow of oxygen and other nutrients into our joints. This process can assist in alleviating some of the inflammation, pain and stiffness associated with arthritis, as well as promoting overall joint health.

Walking can also help to strengthen the accessory structures that support our joints, such as muscles, ligaments and tendons. Keeping these structures active and strong can help improve the flexibility and range of motion in our lower joints, decrease the load we place on them and also assist in maintaining their bone mineral density.

Outside our Joints

Cardiovascular and Metabolic Health – Walking is a recommended exercise for lowering blood pressure and improving overall heart health. As some forms of arthritis are linked to increased risk of heart disease, it is important to look after our heart as we care for our joints. Walking on a regular basis has been shown to help manage weight, control our cholesterol and assist in lowering blood pressure, in turn lowering our risk of heart disease and stroke. Walking also helps to reduce the risk of diabetes by assisting our metabolic system to function effectively. (To read our article on arthritis and heart disease, click here)

Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing – Walking makes you feel good. It can improve your mood by releasing 'feel good' endorphins that help to reduce our stress levels. These endorphins can also help to reduce our brain's perception of pain and help trigger positive feelings in our bodies.

How Can I Start a Safe and Enjoyable Walking Routine?

Make it Social

As with any form of exercise, it is important to make walking part of your day-to-day routine. One easy way to do this is turning it into a social activity. Organise (or join) a walking group in your workplace, neighborhood or with your family and friends. This will help make walking seem like less of a chore and more like a social outing.

Pace yourself and look after yourself                                             

Remember when exercising with arthritis it is important to pace yourself, you don't want to end up taking one step forward and two steps back. Talk to your healthcare team, they can help you set goals and make sure that you are walking in a safe and effective manner. Once you have a plan in place, using pedometers and other gadgets to track your walking progress can help you to stay motivated and keep you on track in reaching your goals.

Although walking is low impact, you may still experience some aches and pains during or after walking. Using hot and cold therapies (e.g. ice and heat packs) may help you to recover after exercise (to read our tips on hot and cold therapies, click here). If you are experiencing excessive pain or discomfort due to walking, stop and check in with your healthcare team.  

It is also important to:

Drink fluids - Staying hydrated is an important part of being physically active. Drinking plenty of water will ensure that you have the proper balance of electrolytes and water in your body, helping your muscles and mind to function effectively.

Slip, Slop, Slap, Slide and Seek - Remember, being Queenslanders we unfortunately live in the skin cancer capital of the world. Make sure, no matter the time of day, that you wear protective clothing and apply plenty of sunscreen before heading off for a walk.

Incorporate Walking into Your Daily Routine

Every one of us is busy, and it can sometimes be seemingly impossible to find the time to exercise. Luckily, walking is something that can easily be slipped into your daily activities, and you probably won't even notice. By making some small changes to your daily routine you will be amazed at how quickly you can rack-up some steps.

The workplace - Unfortunately, the workplace has become an area where we spend a lot of time in a sedentary state. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to make your workplace more active.                                                                                        

  • Move your bin and printer away from your desk - You would be amazed how many times you use a bin or printer during the day. By moving these items out of arm's reach you can add some big numbers to your step count.
  • Set alarms every hour and get active - It is important that you break up periods of sitting with bursts of being active. By going for short (three minute) walk around your workplace every hour you will total about 25mins of walking per day just by being at work. Combine this with the steps you will get from moving your bin/printer, and you will be well on your way to reaching the Australian Government’s recommended levels of physical activity (to read, click here)
  • Try Walking or Standing Meetings - This may take some getting used to, but incorporating standing or walking into your office meetings can create a more engaging atmosphere and is a great way of squeezing in a few extra steps.

The Home                                                                                                                  

  • Incorporate activity into your leisure time - We would probably all agree that TV ads are boring, however they are a great excuse to get up and walk around for a few minutes. Another tip when watching T.V is to keep your remote out of arm's reach. This will help you to break up periods of sitting as you have to get up to change the channel or adjust the volume.
  • Housework and cooking – Wear your pedometer while you are doing the house work, washing the car, gardening or cooking. It is amazing how many steps these tasks result in.
  • To read our article on sedentary behaviour and arthritis, click here.

Click here to register for Move it in May


Information provided on this website is of an educational nature and should not be relied on as medical advice. You should consult with your health care professional about the appropriateness of this information for your particular case.


References

Arthritis Foundation. n.d. 12 Benefits of Walking. Retrieved from  http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/workouts/walking/wow-of-walking.php

Arthritis Foundation. n.d. Exercises for Arthritis. Retrieved from http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/benefits/ 

Bumgardner, W. VeryWell. 2016. Ways to motivate yourself to walk. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/ways-to-motivate-yourself-to-walk-3435835

Cooney JK, Law R-J, Matschke V, et al. Benefits of Exercise in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Journal of Aging Research. 2011;2011:681640. doi:10.4061/2011/681640.

The Heart Foundation of Australia 2016. Why Walk? Retrieved from http://walking.heartfoundation.org.au/why-walk/ 

LiveStrong Foundation 2015. Can walking improve circulation? Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/534303-can-walking-improve-circulation/