How resistance training and exercise can help fight osteoarthritis


As we age, it’s not uncommon for us to develop osteoarthritis, an inflammation caused by damage to the articular cartilage (the protective lining of the bones), causing bones to rub against the bones. As a result, movement can be painful, causing you to move less, and less movement means smaller, weaker muscles. In turn, less muscle mass contributes to a host of health problems, including obesity, high blood lipids and cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and possibly type 2 diabetes. .

Seems familiar? It should be, as these issues are rampant in the American population, especially those of us who have been standing up for years, and loss of muscle mass is a big factor.

There is a gradual loss of muscle mass that begins in the mid-thirties, and progresses with age, accelerating after 60 and really taking off after 70. Ultimately, the typical 80-year-old American has only about half the muscle mass he or she had. in their younger years and a lot more body fat.

Is muscle loss inevitable? Yes, but you can dramatically reduce the degree of waste if you put in the time and effort.

If osteoarthritis is not too advanced and too painful, resistance training (lifting weights) may be the solution, especially for older people. Granted, I know the idea of ​​resistance training with arthritis joints sounds silly at first, but a lot of older people lift weights. I see them regularly in my gym.

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Kudos to them for being there and exercising, but let me add that a lot of times what I see is older people ‘just doing the exercise’ and they it is obvious that they could do more. It’s better than nothing, of course, but if you’re going to be putting in the time and effort to hit the gym, why not maximize the benefits? This means that you have to challenge your muscles, stress them out, push them out of their comfort zone until they get tired, make them want to change and get stronger.

But, if the joints are compromised by osteoarthritis, how is it possible to push the muscles hard enough? In dealing with this problem in my own life, I suggest an approach that I have used for years. It can “trick” the muscles, manipulating the situation so that the muscles are challenged, but the joints are not required to bear the brunt of the load.

How to pre-exhaust your muscles to get stronger

Let me start with a few tips for everyone, especially the elderly. Do not immediately jump into your workout when lifting a weight or pushing off a resistance machine. Spend time moving the joints you’re about to engage, gradually increasing your range of motion over and over again. Then repeatedly flex and extend the muscles you’re about to use. These preliminary efforts will lubricate the joints and prepare the muscles, preparing them for work. And when you begin, perform each repetition slowly, very tightly, and without momentum.

As pointed out above, arthritic joints may not be able to handle the amount of stress needed to challenge muscles and make them stronger. The answer is a “pre-exhaustion” approach. Instead of lifting a 60-pound barbell 10 times and doing curls for the biceps muscles, start by lifting 30 pounds and doing as many curls as possible (maybe 30, 40 or more), tiring the biceps. Rest only briefly, just long enough to take a few breaths, then repeat, this time lifting 40 pounds. Because the bicep muscles were “pre-exhausted” with 30 pounds, 40 pounds will feel a lot heavier and challenge the muscles in the same way 60 pounds would if the muscles were fresh. The good news is that the stress on the joints will be much less, even if the biceps muscle is used adequately.

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How Resistance Training Can Help Challenge Your Aging Muscles

Another approach works well when using machines with a weight stack. To adjust the weight, you remove a pin and reinsert it at the desired weight. This makes weight change quick and easy. I suggest starting low on the weight stack with a light weight that you can lift for high reps (30 or more) as a warm-up. Rest only as long as it takes to remove the pin and reinsert it to the next higher level, then start again. Keep working your way up to the weight stack.

The good news is that lighter weights help prepare muscles for a bigger challenge ahead. They also gradually pre-exhaust the muscles, so that a lighter weight is perceived as heavier and harder on the muscles.

How to use resistance bands to get stronger

Finally, if weights aren’t right for you, or you think you’re not ready, resistance bands are a good place to start. But you still have to push your muscles to fatigue to get any benefit. Finally, if you can, go ahead and challenge your muscles with weight training. The rewards will be worth it.

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Why resistance training can help fight osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can make joint movement painful, especially at first, but ironically, exercise is the best non-drug medicine. Resistance training is a very effective approach, and the pre-exhaustion method can help preserve strength and muscle mass, increasing the chances that you can continue to use your joints to do whatever you need to do in the muscles. years to come.

Contact Bryant Stamford, Professor of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Hanover College, at [email protected]


Evelyn C. Tobin