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Expert Q&A

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How can someone with arthritis work out?

Asked by Justin, Hill Air Force Base, Utah

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My wife thinks she is fat. I disagree. I would consider her chubby at most. She has self-esteem issues and confidence issues because of her weight. I would like to help her lose weight to make herself feel better, but the only problem is she has arthritis in her wrists and ankles. So is there any type of workout that will help my wife lose weight but not mess with her arthritis in the process? Thank you.

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Justin. Your question is an excellent one, as many people who suffer from arthritis may not be getting the exercise they require for optimal health and to lose or maintain their weight.

To answer your question, I consulted with arthritis expert, Lynn Millar Ph.D., a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University who is also a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the author of "Action Plan for Arthritis"(Kinetic Books).

Millar notes that weight loss is especially important in those who suffer from lower body (ankle, knee, hip) arthritis; research has shown that as little as 10 pounds weight loss will reduce arthritis symptoms. In addition to helping with weight loss, regular exercise may also help reduce arthritis symptoms and improve function without speeding the progression of arthritis as many people mistakenly believe.

Because the arthritis is in her ankles, Millar suggests that stationary cycling may be the least stressful on these joints. If you don't have access to a gym or don't want to purchase a stationary bike, you might consider purchasing a bicycle trainer as an economical alternative if your wife already has a bicycle (click here for examples).

In addition to regular aerobic exercise, resistance training is also important for weight loss and optimal health. Since your wife also has arthritis in her wrists, using resistance bands or exercise tubing would provide an inexpensive and low-resistance strength training option.

Millar suggests seeing a physical therapist initially if possible to help develop a safe and effective home exercise plan and to determine whether additional activities are needed. If your wife is unable to see a physical therapist, make sure that she starts slowly and gradually progresses in both intensity and duration of exercise, with the goal of working up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days per week and two days of full body resistance training.

A regular exercise program combined with a moderate reduction in daily caloric intake should have her looking and feeling better by summer.

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