Exercising with Excess Body Weight or Arthritis

Everyone has an excuse for not engaging in regular exercise, but if yours involves either being too heavy to exercise or having arthritis in your lower extremity joints, hopefully I will be able to help you lose your excuses. If you can find a way to exercise and move around more, your body and mind will thank you.

Exercising with excess body weight
Carrying around extra body fat can pose a formidable challenge to being physically active. Excess weight alone can often keep you from wanting or being able to participate in sports or other physical pursuits, thus potentially creating a catch-22 for weight management and self-care. For example, choosing not to participate in physical activities due to your excessive body size lowers your daily calorie expenditure, which causes you to potentially gain more weight. At the same time, being sedentary makes you lose muscle mass, making you weaker and robbing you of any incentive to become more active.

How should you begin moving more? Start out slowly so that you neither injure yourself nor cause yourself to lose motivation. Walking more is a great way to start, but it is not for everyone, so don’t hesitate to try out different low-intensity activities until you find the ones that are most enjoyable for you. You can choose to get moving simply by doing non-weight-bearing exercises, such as any swimming pool-based activity, stationary cycling, and other activities done off your feet. Many exercises can be done seated, and there are countless articles, books, videos, and DVDs on the subject. Many of the stretches and resistance activities given in my latest book (The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan) can also be modified slightly to work from a sitting or lying position, if that makes them easier for you to do.

Exercise Videos and DVDs for Everyone
A wide selection of videotapes and DVDs demonstrating various physical activities, including exercise routines to be done in a chair or wheelchair, are available from a variety of sources. You can find materials for aerobic workouts, strength training, flexibility moves, yoga, and more. In addition to finding them at local sporting-goods stores and national chains, some online sources to peruse for workout videos are the following: Stronger Seniors, Active Videos, Just About Fitness, and Collage Video. In addition, three workouts highly recommended by About.com include: (1) Jodi Stolove—Chair Dancing through the Decades (2004) and Chair Dancing around the World (2004); (2) Tai-Chi Exercises for Seniors (1998); and (3) Doctor’s Senior Exercise (1998). Try out various ones to find the ones that work best for you.

Exercising with orthopedic problems and arthritis
Simply by having diabetes, you already have a high risk of both joint-related injuries and overuse problems like tendonitis. You may therefore find that adopting a more moderate exercise like walking rather than a more vigorous one like running makes more sense, since you’ll have less potential for joint trauma with the former. Diabetic frozen shoulder, “trigger finger,” and other acute joint problems can also come on with no warning and for no readily apparent reason. The best defense is to prevent all of these injuries with good blood sugar control, in addition to doing flexibility exercises that help emphasize and maintain a full range of motion around all your joints.

Arthritis is also more common in people with type 2 diabetes due to the extra body weight most of them are carrying around. Lower extremity joints (the hip, knee, and ankle) are most often affected, and, when present, osteoarthritis can severely limit your ability to exercise. However, research has clearly shown that exercise is an effective means of managing arthritis, even the more severe rheumatoid type. Get started with some basic range-of-motion exercises to increase your joint mobility, and then move on to specific resistance work. You will derive immense benefit from both improving joint flexibility and increasing the strength of your muscles surrounding any affected joints. If you have arthritic knees or hips, walking may be too uncomfortable or painful. Your best option is to try non-weight-bearing activities, such as “walking” in a pool (with or without a flotation belt around your waist), aqua aerobics, lap swimming, recumbent stationary cycling, upper-body exercises, seated aerobic workouts, and resistance activities.

No matter what physical activity you choose to do with arthritis, start out slowly and progress gradually using pain as your guide. If you have extremely arthritic joints or flare-ups of pain, concentrate on non-weight-bearing activities. After exercising, you may want to apply ice to your arthritic joints (particularly your knees) for 15 to 20 minutes to reduce swelling and help prevent soreness, and you may additionally benefit from taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen to temporarily lessen any discomfort related to the exercise. Another strategy that can help prevent and treat all orthopedic problems (both increased arthritic pain and more general injuries) is the concept of cross training, in which stressing different muscles and using varying joints from day to day can prevent problems with overuse and keep all of your joints moving more freely. No matter what you do, keep trying until you find the activity or activities that you can do and stick with it!


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