Gouty arthritis can be as painful as it is frustrating. The nightly flare-ups are unpredictable and debilitating. The pain and inflammation may last well into the morning hours, making you rethink your normal routine.
It may cause you to second guess your exercise regimen. If you believe that exercise will make gout symptoms worse—think again. Exercise and gout go hand-in-hand when it comes to symptom management and relief.
Why Exercise with Gout
If you have gout, it may be tempting to stay in bed until the flare dissipates. But to do so would be a mistake. Chances are you will suffer longer from flare-ups if you live a sedentary life.
This is because gout is caused by an excess of uric acid. This uric acid may eventually start to form crystals. These crystals are painful enough. But it gets worse.
Because the immune system views crystals as foreign objects, it attacks them, leading to even more pain and inflammation. Gouty arthritis is a vicious cycle.
But what does this have to do with exercise? Exercise and gout are a dynamic duo because exercise stimulates blood flow, and proper blood flow can help reduce uric acid concentration in joints, lowering the risk of crystal formation.
In fact, it is precisely the joints that do not get a lot of blood flow—like joints in the big toe—that are most likely to be afflicted with gout pain, inflammation, and crystal formation.
People who exercise increase blood flow to all body parts, helping to prevent the stagnation of uric acid in the joints.
Furthermore, light to moderate exercise boost immune function. Because the immune system launches a misdirected attack on the joints after crystals form, people with gout need to focus on improving immune function.
Exercise and gout are not contrary because exercise helps people with gout maintain normal function and mobility.
If a person with gout succumbs to pain and refuses to move, he or she may eventually become less mobile. Exercise ensures that joints and muscles stay healthy and strong.
Finally, exercise reduces the feeling of pain and catalyzes a good mood. What the body does (and doesn’t do) affects the mind.
If a person with gout lets their body stagnant, the mind may stagnate as well, causing feelings of depression and anxiety. But exercise stimulates both the mind and body, reducing feelings of sadness and pain.
What is the Optimal Exercise Regimen for Gouty Arthritis?
There is not one right way to exercise with gout, though there is a wrong way. High intensity, lactic acid producing exercise is not appropriate for someone who is having a gout flare-up.
This will only exacerbate symptoms and discourage future exercise.
Low to moderate intensity exercise is the most therapeutic for gouty arthritis. Exercises that target joints and muscles to increase strength and flexibility are especially beneficial.
At least 20 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise daily stimulates blood flow and promotes cardiovascular health. This can also have a positive effect on the mind, reducing feelings of depression and anxiety.
Here are the best forms of exercise for people with gouty arthritis:
Rebounding involves a mini, personal trampoline, in which an individual uses lower leg muscles to bounce up and down repeatedly. Arm movement can and should accompany the jumping for even more of an aerobic workout.
Not only does rebounding stimulate blood flow and increase respiration, but it also facilitates proper lymphatic system function. The lymphatic system is like the trash receptacle system of the body.
It helps to purify the blood and organs by removing toxins and waste. If the lymphatic system is stagnant due to lack of exercise or poor nutrition, toxins may build up, causing disease.
Because gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid in the joints and bloodstream, proper functioning of the lymphatic system is critical to symptom management.
The lymphatic system could help revitalize and clear out joints that are bogged down with uric acid and crystals.
Rebounding for 20 minutes per day provides low-impact exercise that is easy on the joints.
Because the body has to fight gravity during each jump, many researchers believe that rebounding is even more effective for overall fitness than running.
People with gout may benefit from the movement of simple, daily activities, such as gardening.
Although gardening is not usually mentioned as a form of exercise, the squatting, digging, and hoeing strengthens muscles and improves flexibility.
In addition, gardening is a great way to connect with nature. This provides many psychological benefits for people who may be depressed due to the chronic, insidious nature of gout.
Finally, getting soil in the fingernails (and maybe even a streak or two on the face!) allows a person to come into contact with bacteria that may not be present anywhere else.
Studies have shown that people with gout have a very different intestinal microbiome makeup than healthy people.
Because different bacterial species are associated with gout than with health, coming into contact with bacteria in the soil may help people who suffer from gout. More research needs to be done to determine the exact specie(s) of bacteria that is associated with gout.
Walking along a tree-lined path for 20 to 30 minutes per day is an excellent, stress relieving way to get moving.
Too many people believe that exercise has to be intense and stressful, but people with gout benefit the most from lighter exercise. Walking and noticing the surroundings (mindfulness) promotes mental and physical health.
Yoga and Pilates
These two forms of exercise feature movement with breath. They both emphasize strength, flexibility, and mind-body synchronicity.
People with gout and any other painful, chronic disease can greatly benefit from exercise that synchs the mind and body.
Tai chi is a low-impact form of exercise that seeks to move and balance energy. Negative energy (i.e., thoughts and feelings) are pushed away and positive energy is welcomed in to the body.
Swimming is another form of exercise that can be performed without too much stress on the joints. Varying the stroke type will strengthen different muscle groups.
If you suffer from gouty arthritis, do not give in to despair and do not live a sedentary life. Even on days when you do not feel well, there are many forms of exercise that will benefit both your mind and body.
Exercise and gout are not contrary; they are complementary.
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