Dear Savvy Senior,
What exercises are best suited for seniors with arthritis? I have osteoarthritis in my neck, back, hip and knee and have read that exercises can help ease the pain and stiffness, but I don’t know where to start, and I certainly don’t want to aggravate it.
— Stiff and Achy
Many people who have arthritis believe that exercise will worsen their condition, but that’s not true. Exercise is actually one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis.
Proper and careful exercises can help reduce joint pain and stiffness, strengthen muscles around the joints and increase flexibility. It also helps manage other chronic conditions that are common among seniors with arthritis, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Determining exactly which types of exercises that are best for you depends on the form and severity of your arthritis, and which joints are involved. It’s best to work with your doctor or a physical therapist to help you develop a personalized exercise program. The different types of exercises that are most often recommended to seniors with arthritis include:
• Range-of-motion exercises: These are gentle stretching exercises that can relieve stiffness as well as improve your ability to move your joints through their normal range of motion. These exercises should be done daily.
• Strengthening exercise: Calisthenics, weight training and working with resistance bands are recommended (two or more days a week) to maintain and improve your muscle strength, which helps support and protect your joints.
• Aerobic exercises: Low-impact activities like walking, cycling, swimming or water aerobics are all recommended three to five times per week to help improve cardiovascular health, control weight, and improve your overall function.
It’s also important to keep in mind that when you first start exercising, you need to go slow to give your body time to adjust. If you push yourself too hard you can aggravate your joint pain. However, some muscle soreness or joint achiness in the beginning is normal.
To help you manage your pain start by warming up with some simple stretches or range of motion exercises for five to 10 minutes before you move on to strengthening or aerobic exercises. Another tip is to apply heat to the joints you’ll be working before you exercise, and use cold packs after exercising to reduce inflammation.
If you’re experiencing a lot of pain while you exercise, you may need to modify the frequency, duration, or intensity of your exercises until the pain improves. Or you may need to try a different activity, for example, switching from walking to water aerobics. But it you’re having severe, sharp or constant pain, or large increases in swelling or your joints feel hot or red, you need to stop and see your doctor.
To help you exercise at home, the Arthritis Foundation offers a variety of free online videos (see Arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/exercise/videos) to guide you through a variety of exercises. Or there are arthritis exercise DVDs you can purchase for a few dollars through Collage Video (CollageVideo.com, 800-819-7111) or the Arthritis Foundation Store (AFstore.org).
Also see Go4life.nia.nih.gov (or call 800-222-2225), a National Institute on Aging resource that offers a free exercise guide that provides illustrated examples of different exercises.
If you need some motivation or don’t like exercising alone, ask your doctor about exercise programs in your area for people with arthritis. Hospitals and clinics sometimes offer special programs, as do local health clubs and senior centers.
The Arthritis Foundation also conducts exercise and aquatic programs for people with arthritis in many communities throughout the U.S. Contact your local branch (see Arthritis.org/local-offices, or call 800-283-7800 for contact information) to find out what may be available near you.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.
Right now is the perfect time to start planning for a secure, comfortable retirement. And you can count on Social Security to help you begin the process.
First, we encourage you to set up an online my Social Security account so you can verify your lifetime earnings record and make sure you get credit for all of your contributions to the Social Security system through the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll taxes. If you haven’t set up your personal my Social Security account yet, you can do so at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
Then, you can use your earnings history and our online retirement estimators and calculators to get a glimpse of what your Social Security retirement future looks like. You’ll find important details such as your retirement age, life expectancy, and estimates of how much you may receive in future retirement benefits from Social Security.
As you look ahead to ensuring a secure, comfortable future for you and your family, it’s important to keep in mind that Social Security replaces about 40 percent of your pre-retirement income, on average. So, a responsible retirement plan includes planning for more than Social Security.
Here are some more things you can do now to build your financial security:
• Contribute to pension plans offered by your employers;
• Maintain and grow savings accounts; and
• Open and regularly contribute to an individual retirement fund.
These steps — combined with your Social Security benefits — will go a long way toward ensuring a comfortable quality of life for you and your loved ones in the future.
As you plan for a financially secure future, please keep in mind that our Retirement Estimator and benefit calculators provide you with estimates — not guarantees. We can’t provide your actual benefit amount until you apply for benefits.
Our estimates may differ from your actual benefit amount if your future earnings increase or decrease, if laws governing benefit amounts change, if you’ve served in the military, or if you’ve had jobs in which you did not pay Social Security taxes.
Social Security is with you throughout life’s journey, from your first paycheck to receiving your first retirement deposit in your bank account. And, as our nation’s most successful anti-poverty program, we’ll continue to provide you and millions of other Americans with financial protections to ensure a secure tomorrow.
To learn more about our programs, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov.
— Nicole Tiggemann is a Social Security spokesperson.