What’s Your Fitness IQ?

Exercise can help relieve arthritis pain, but how much do you really know about the ins and outs of working out? Read these questions and answers and test your fitness IQ.

Update By Linda Rath | April 28, 2023

Q: How much aerobic exercise should you get per week?
A: A minimum of 150 minutes.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advises at least that much moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology (EULAR) also recommend 150 minutes a week for people with all forms of arthritis to relieve pain and prevent disability. Although the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) hasn’t weighed in on an exact amount of weekly exercise, it’s the only form of nondrug therapy the organization strongly recommends. Yet research shows only a fraction of adults with arthritis meet the minimum 150-minute mark. 

Q: Lifting weights helps support joints. True or false?
A: True.

“Having strong muscles can take pressure off of the joint, which may help lessen arthritis pain,” says rheumatologist Rochelle Rosian, MD, at Cleveland Clinic. All arthritis organizations along with the CDC recommend strength training at least two days a week.

Q: It’s OK to feel some pain while working out. True or false?
A: True.

Mild pain or soreness is a normal part of working out, says Andrew McDonnell, a physical therapist at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Round Rock, Texas. But moderate to severe pain in your joints is a sign you should take a break. Distinguishing between joint pain and normal muscle soreness can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that exercise is good for arthritis and that muscle soreness — often delayed by a day or two — is a sign of an effective workout. If you’re still uncertain, ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist, who can show you the safest, most effective ways to exercise.

Q: How many times a week is recommended for strength training?
A: Experts recommend strength training at least twice a week, but you can do it more often.

“Your muscles need one or two days of recovery between workouts,” says McDonnell. For example, work your legs one day and your arms the next.

Q: People with arthritis should avoid high-intensity exercise. True or false?
A: False.

In high intensity interval training or HIIT, you alternate brief bouts of all-out effort — 85% to 95% of your maximum heart rate — with lower-intensity periods of recovery, about 50% to 70% of your heart rate max. This method not only produces more benefits for your heart, lungs and muscles, but also cuts your training time. Depending on the length and intensity of your HIIT bouts, you may need no more than 15 minutes to get a great workout. HIIT was once mainly reserved for top athletes, but newer research shows that anyone can benefit, including previously sedentary older adults. One randomized controlled trial of 100 patients with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) found that high-intensity cardio and strength workouts (less strenuous than HIIT) were more effective than standard treatments at reducing disease activity, relieving pain, fatigue and stiffness and improving cardiovascular health. One benefit for people with arthritis is that HIIT can be done on non-weight-bearing equipment, such as bikes, ellipticals and rowing machines. Adults who have arthritis or other health problems should start slowly, with no more than one HIIT session a week. Although three times a week is sometimes recommended for maximum benefits, there may be a law of diminishing returns. According to one study, excessive HIIT can negatively affect blood sugar and mitochondria, the energy-producing part of most cells.

Q: About how long should you warm up?
A: 5 to 10 minutes.

Warming up boosts circulation, which can reduce stiffness and help fend off injuries. Start every workout with light activity, such as marching in place.

Q: Is it better to stretch before or after your workout?
A: After your workout.

Stretching cold muscles may cause you to pull something,” says McDonnell. Work on flexibility after your warmup or workout. Or focus on mobility training or yoga on your recovery days. You’ll be amazed how much increased mobility can enhance your other workouts.

Q: Exercise can give you more energy. True or false?
A: True.

If you’ve ever felt sleepy, then snapped back after a quick walk, you know that movement increases energy and makes you feel better overall. When you exercise, your heart and lungs bring more nutrients and oxygen to your tissues, which ups energy, even among people with medical conditions associated with fatigue. Exercise also stimulates mitochondria — tiny organs in each cell that transform chemical energy from food into energy cells can use. A recent analysis of 41 randomized controlled trials looking at exercise and fibromyalgia found that strength training and aerobic exercise were more energizing than ‘meditative’ exercises, which are more likely to improve sleep. 

To watch video tutorials on how to exercise safely with arthritis, check out the Your Exercise Solution library of videos.

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