Water Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis can be a debilitating condition, causing destructive chronic inflammation in over 2 million people in the U.S. alone. While there is no cure for this baffling autoimmune disease, early diagnosis and aggressive treatment can slow the progression of rheumatoid arthritis, allowing those who live with it to maintain joint integrity and function.
What Causes It to Develop?
No one is sure just why rheumatoid arthritis develops in some people but not in others. It is believed that age (30-60 years), hormones (especially those of women), genetics (more likely to develop if a relative has it), and smoking habits are all contributing factors. Rheumatoid arthritis is a complex disease and could very well be the result of several diseases with similar symptoms.
What Is Responsible for the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis?
The inflammation, pain, and joint destruction characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis are all the result of a faulty immune system. Under normal conditions, the immune system can differentiate between self and non-self within the body, protecting the body's own tissues from harm during an infection. In those with rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system mistakes the cells of the synovial membrane (tissue which surrounds joints) as foreign and attacks them as such, resulting in joint inflammation and eventual destruction.
Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis
Life with rheumatoid arthritis can be unpredictable, frustrating, and, above all, painful. The progression of the disease is poorly understood, as it often spontaneously goes into remission where no symptoms are present. Remissions can last from a few days to a few months, with or without treatment. Inevitably, however, the disease will be re-activated and "flare-up," with re-emerging symptoms. While treatment options do exist, most of which attempt to decrease inflammation and thereby pain, there are several things the rheumatoid sufferer can do in addition to prevent the progression and pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Exercise is essential to health across the board, but especially for those with joint problems. Like almost every aspect of health (mental, physical), if you don't use it, you'll lose it. The same is true for joint health, and can be maintained by moderate and consistent exercise.
Perhaps the best form of exercise for those with rheumatoid arthritis is water exercise, the benefits of which are nearly endless. The most important benefit for those with joint pain, however, is the buoyancy of water which prevents the stress-related injuries of land exercises. In fact, water supports half of your weight, greatly reducing the pressure on painful joints. Something to keep in mind, however, is that water exercise heart rates tend to be lower than those of land exercises, so take it easy. Other benefits of water exercise include:
- Higher workout intensity due to water's resistance
- Other than a swimsuit, no additional equipment required
- Privacy of the water prevents those without a six-pack from feeling inadequate
- Slight pressure of water gently massages muscles
Even if you're not a great swimmer, exercises such as walking or jogging in the water can still get that heart rate up. It's best to start in the shallower water to reduce the amount of water resistance and gradually progress to deeper water as fitness is increased. If water exercises classes aren't available, the internet is a great resource for finding underwater exercises to create your own regimen. Water exercises are great for people of all ages and all sizes, so grab a friend and start relieving the joint pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
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