Swimming : The Best Exercise For Arthritis

The Best Exercise For Arthritis

Did you know that there are dozens of different types of arthritis?

There are lots of different causes of joint disease, many of which can cause discomfort and problems with mobility. Two of the most well-known types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These two account for some of the most debilitating cases.

Whatever the cause of your arthritis, the symptoms are often similar:

  • Joint stiffness
  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Pain

Combined, these symptoms can lead to arthritis sufferers withdrawing from physical activity.

Moving around can be difficult, uncomfortable, slow and awkward. Over time, with less physical activity, arthritis patients may find one or both of the following happens:

  1. Weight gain
  2. Loss of muscle mass

Easing Your Aches

The fact is, that  both excessive weight and weak muscles will exacerbate arthritis symptoms. Extra weight bearing down on joints that are already under stress from disease will cause more problems.

In osteoarthritis, for example, the protective cartilage between joints is injured or worn out, and sometimes bones grind together. If that was happening in your knees, and then you lifted a heavy rucksack onto your back, your knees would let you know about it!

Cartilage isn’t the only thing protecting the joints, however. Muscles are a critical part of the job. They are responsible for moving the joints, of course. But they also support the joints so that they don’t collapse.

Aching joints can be a barrier to movement. So it may come as a surprise that regular exercise is one of the most important treatments for arthritis. The best types of exercise for arthritis are:

  • Low impact – easy on the joints
  • Strength building – to build and maintain muscle mass
  • Aerobic – heart and lung protective

Fortunately, swimming ticks all these boxes.

Relieving Arthritis

Relieving Arthritis

Aquatic activity is high on the list of arthritis-friendly exercises. If you’ve ever floated around on your back, with a lilo or without, you know why. It just takes all the stress off your body. Buoyancy is the reason. Water pushes you up from below, which gives a sensation of weightlessness. It’s almost like being in low gravity.

With the weight supported by the water, joint pressure loosens, pain lessens, and mobility can immediately improve. Some people swear by cold water swimming for help with pain. Others feel soothed by soaking in warmer pools. Either way, this relief just from being in the water grows with exercise.

Growing Strong

Working out in the water combines full-body resistance with aerobic activity. That means you’re strengthening your muscles while you work out your heart and lungs.

Most people think of resistance training and conjure images of free weights or elasticated bands. But actually it is any exercise where you push or pull against something…well…resistant.

The water is what’s resistant. Try running through the pool, and you’ll soon understand just how resistant it can be. That drag against your body is what makes your muscles work. Moving your legs through air to run is a lot easier in terms of resistance, but a lot harder on your joints every time your feet make contact with the ground.

The thing with swimming is, the source of resistance is all around your body. No matter which way you move, you’ll have to push or pull against it. That means every muscle group is going to get stronger when you swim. Strong muscles support joints out of the water. That may improve pain management and long-term mobility.

Swimming can also improve flexibility and balance. With guidance from a good coach, you can practice in the water:

  • Standing on one leg
  • Running with knees up high
  • Flexing the hips
  • Rotating arms and legs

Lastly, but so importantly, swimming is one of the best aerobic sports. Aerobic sport is linked to improved weight management, decreased blood lipids, and better overall heart health.

How To Get Started

Adult swimming lessons

If it’s been a long time since you’ve been swimming or if you don’t know how to swim at all, not to worry. There are lots of options available:

None of these activities require that you have any swimming experience. A teacher or therapist will be on hand to guide you through the activity. You may even book private sessions if you wish.

A fully qualified swimming teacher will be ready to help you no matter your ability or confidence level in a swimming lesson. They will spend the first lesson or two getting to understand your needs and goals by asking you some questions and going through some exercises.

Those exercises might include:

  • Floating on your back and/or front
  • Kicking your legs
  • Moving your arms
  • Getting your face in the water and blowing bubbles

Depending on your comfort and skill, they will use different equipment to help you balance and feel confident. As you develop your ability, they will change how you use the equipment, and eventually, they might remove it.

Still Nervous?

If getting wet is giving you cold feet, have a think about what’s holding you back. Is it mobility concerns? Are you on edge about letting go of the pool edge? Here are a few things to consider that may put your mind at ease.

First, most pools these days are equipped with disability access lifts or ramps. But sometimes older facilities may not be fully accessible. If you require assistance entering or exiting the pool, it may be useful to check with the facility ahead of time to find out what they have.

Secondly, a reputable private instructor can, with your permission, be in the pool with you to provide additional support. They are trained to support the body to optimize buoyancy and balance while also allowing you to exercise your muscles. You are always in control about who is present and whether they can touch you. They might only touch the float you’re holding instead, for example.

Thirdly, you could try water walking as a first exercise. This is just what it sounds like.

You walk from one side of the pool to the other with your feet firmly on the floor. It has similar benefits to swimming:

  • Resistance as you drag your limbs through the water
  • Aerobic—you will definitely feel your heart rate go up
  • Buoyancy as the water lifts weight off your lower body

A teacher can help you through your first time.

If you’re ready to feel fitter, more flexible and stronger, contact us about private 1-to-1 swimming lessons!

by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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