The hardest part of starting an exercise program is, well ... getting started. This can be an especially daunting task if you have osteoarthritis (OA), the wear-and-tear form of arthritis that causes joint pain and loss of function for 27 million Americans.
But "the more you move, the better you will feel," promises Laura Thorp, PhD, an OA researcher at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
The pain of arthritis makes it tough for many people to get a good night’s sleep. Worse yet, tossing and turning at night can actually increase the perception of pain.
“There’s a reciprocal relationship between pain and poor sleep. The poorer people sleep, the more pain they tend to be in,” says Kevin Fontaine, PhD, assistant professor of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University. “If people with arthritis can improve the quality of their sleep, they can usually reduce their day-to-day pain.”
"Walking is an easy way to get started and it can help you lose weight," she says. OA and obesity tend to travel together, and excess weight puts more stress on your already creaky joints. Modest weight loss can help relieve pain and restore function in your joints.
To make the challenge less daunting, WebMD devised this new, expert-approved, step-by-step, 6-week walking program.
Step 1. Get medical clearance from your doctor. Do not pass go without it, Thorp says. "Never start an exercise program without talking to your doctor first, especially if you have been sedentary," she cautions.
Step 2. Seek guidance from a certified exercise trainer or a physical therapist, Thorp says. If you are a couch potato by nature, a physical therapist can help design your walking program. He or she can also help you with your walking posture and teach you how to target the correct muscles when you warm up and cool down. If you are a more seasoned current or former exerciser, you can bypass this step.
Step 3. Start slowly. "If you are going to start an exercise or walking program and go full-force into it, you will get worn out," she says. "Set realistic expectations." Aim for walking three times a week for the first 2 weeks of this 6-week program. "Start gradually, and build up to 30 minutes on most days of the week." Keep a walking journal and record your progress. You can include information about how far, how long, and how often you walk.
Step 3a. Break it up. Walking does not have to be done consecutively for it to count. It can be done in brief spurts throughout the day.