It is not uncommon as we age that we develop osteoarthritis, inflammation caused by damage to the articular cartilage (protective lining of bones), which leads to bones rubbing on bones. As a result, movement can be painful, causing you to move less, and less movement means smaller and weaker muscles. In turn, less muscle mass contributes to a wide range of health problems, including obesity, high blood lipids and cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and ultimately type 2 diabetes.
Does that sound familiar? It should, as these problems are prevalent in the American people, especially among those of us who stand up for years and lost muscle mass is a major factor.
There is a gradual loss of muscle mass that begins in the mid-30s and progresses with age, accelerates after age 60 and really picks up after age 70. In the end, the typical American at the age of 80 has only about half the muscle mass they had. in their younger years and much more body fat.
Is muscle loss inevitable? Yes, but you can greatly reduce the loss if you spend time and effort.
If osteoarthritis is not too advanced and too painful, resistance training (lifting weights) may be the answer, especially for older people. Granted, I know the idea of resistance training with rheumatoid arthritis seems absurd at first, but many older people are out there lifting weights. I see them regularly in my gym.
You like: You are so sore in the morning, but it is not too late to fight osteoarthritis. Here’s how you do it
Thanks to them for being there and training, but let me add that what I see are often older people who are simply “going through the motions” and it is clear that they could do more. This is obviously better than nothing, but if you want to spend time and effort going to the gym, why not maximize the benefits? That means you have to challenge your muscles, stress them out, push them out of their comfort zone to fatigue, make them want to change and get stronger.
But if the joints are compromised with osteoarthritis, then how is it possible to squeeze the muscles hard enough? When I confront this problem in my own life, I suggest an approach I have used for years. It can “fool” the muscles, manipulating the situation so that the muscles are challenged, but the joints are not required to carry the bulk of the load.
How To Exercise Your Muscles To Get Stronger
Let me start with some advice for everyone, especially for older people. Do not jump into your workout immediately when lifting a weight or pushing on a resistance machine. Spend time moving the joints you are engaging, and gradually increase throughout the range of motion, over and over again. Then you need to repeatedly bend and lengthen the muscles you are about to use. These preliminary efforts will lubricate the joints and prepare the muscles and make them ready to work. And when you start, perform each repetition slowly, in a very strict manner and without momentum.
As emphasized above, rheumatoid arthritis may not be able to handle the amount of stress needed to challenge the muscles and make them stronger. The answer is a “pre-exhaustion” approach. Instead of lifting a 60-pound barbell 10 times and making curls for the biceps muscles, first lift 30 pounds and make as many curls as possible (maybe 30, 40 or more), making the biceps tired. Rest only briefly, just long enough to take a few breaths, and then repeat, this time lifting 40 pounds. Because the biceps muscles were “pre-tired” by 30-pounds, 40-pounds will feel much heavier and will challenge the muscles in the same way that 60-pounds would if the muscles were fresh. The good news is that the load on the joints will be much less even if the biceps muscle is challenged sufficiently.
You like: We know it’s uncomfortable, but as soon as you are eligible, get a colonoscopy. Here’s why
How Resistance Training Can Help Challenge Your Aging Muscles
Another approach works well when using machines with weight stack. To adjust the weight, pull out a pin and reinsert it with the desired weight. This makes changing the weight quick and easy. I suggest you start low on the weight stack with a light weight you can lift for high repetitions (30 or more) like warm up. Rest only the time it takes to remove the pin and reinsert it at the next higher level, then do it again. Continue to work your way up the weight stack.
The good news is that the lighter weights help prepare the muscles for a bigger challenge ahead. They also gradually exhaust the muscles, so that a lighter weight is perceived as heavier and more challenging for the muscles.
How to use resistance bands to get stronger
Finally, if weights do not feel right for you, or if you do not think you are ready, resistance bands are a good starting point. But you still have to squeeze your muscles to fatigue to get any benefit. Finally, if you can, move on and challenge your muscles with weight training. The reward will be worth the effort.
You like: The Case Against Soda: How Diet Soda Can Get You to Gain Weight and Increase Your Risk of Stroke
Why resistance training can help fight osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis can make joint movements painful, especially in the beginning, but ironically, exercise is the best non-medical medicine. Resistance training is a highly effective approach, and the pre-fatigue method can help maintain strength and muscle mass, increasing the chances that you will be able to keep using your joints to do all the things you need to do in the coming years.
Now Bryant Stamford, Professor of Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology at Hanover College, at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Louisville Courier Journal: How Resistance Training, Exercise Can Help Fight Osteoarthritis