A 1500 Year Old Solution to Exercising With Arthritis

I have written a lot about vigorous exercise as the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. Usually I do this in singing the praises of yoga as not just something that hippies (and girls, and girl hippies) do as a part of their spiritual lifestyle, but as a hard, total body workout.

But why yoga in particular? Surely there are other exercise regimens that will give you 100% the benefits, and none of the patchouli. This is true, I referenced one in citing the HIIT training study published by the Mayo Clinic; spinning. In fact, I have a couple of hockey buddies who bought spin bikes for their own workouts.

You can choose from an astonishingly wide variety of exercises to get many of the effects I have talked about; lower stress, better sleep, increased muscle mass, reduced fat, etc. However, there are a few things you’ll get in yoga that you won’t get everywhere, and today I thought I talk about one of the biggies; low impact.

My knees, my left hip, right wrist, left elbow, right shoulder, most of my foreknuckles and (oddly) my toe knuckles are, shall we say, not in the best of shape. You don’t do the things to your body that I’ve done to mine without paying a price. The price I’m paying is osteoarthritis.

From webmd.com osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis (OA) is caused by aging joints, injury, and obesity. OA symptoms include joint pain and stiffness.

I’ve never been fat. But I’ve spent

  • 30 years pursuing various martial arts disciplines
  • 30 years running
  • many hours on hockey rinks, tennis, squash, and basketball courts, etc.
  • quite some time sliding down the snow on planks during the winter, and hiking up the hills in the summer
  • five decades on the green side of the grass

Among it all, I’ve got the aging joints and injuries thing well covered. So as I navigate the rocks and shoals of the middle years, since I need to remain fit and healthy to provide for my family, and to be the active involved daddy that boys deserve, I need to exercise. But how? What can I do to exercise without making my knees, hips, wrists and shoulders worse?

Go low impact. This is where (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again) fate intervened. There are lots of low impact workouts, but my experience has been that they’re either low intensity, or boring. I need something high intensity, low impact and interesting enough that I can keep doing it.

I can’t bike the year round, nor can I kayak the year round, old man winter has something to say about that. I’m not fond of the type of machines (spin bikes, ellipticals) that provide the low impact exercise, so I’m not going to waste money on a machine I won’t use.

Well, by pure dumb luck, I found yoga. A form of exercise that provides; strength training, core training, balance training, a good stretch, and an aerobic workout, all in one class, all contained on a 3’ x 6’ mat. By even greater luck, from the very first class I loved it. By greater luck still, it has never gotten boring. A Bikram Yoga class is as enjoyable for me today, as that first time, 13 years ago.

I know yoga isn’t the exercise for everyone, although I do think it should be an exercise for everyone. Seriously, I can’t think of any group that wouldn’t benefit from yoga even if not as the primary exercise, at least as a complementary exercise. But I digress.

Yoga isn’t the exercise for everyone, but leaving aside the benefits I’ve been jabbering on about the last little while, it’s a truly fantastic exercise for anyone with joint problems. In the years I’ve been practicing yoga I’ve experienced a general reduction in joint pain. Yes, I have arthritis, and it’s not going away, but I can exercise hard, and enjoy the benefits of that exercise. And I can leave the bottle of ibuprofen for when I’m actually sick or hurt, and not just to get me through a workout.