Physical activity is healthy for everyone. But if you have psoriatic arthritis, it's more than a good idea: It's a critical component of your overall treatment plan.
Keeping your joints in motion can improve your symptoms, your health, and your quality of life. Specifically, if you exercise, you'll:
Have less joint pain and stiffness
Move more easily and freely
Reach or maintain a healthy weight
Be more flexible and coordinated
Have more endurance
Feel happier and less stressed
Have stronger muscles—including the heart muscle
The sooner you start exercising, the better your chances of maintaining joint function. But you'll get benefits no matter when you begin. In some cases, exercise restores movement you thought you'd lost.
Steps for Starting
The first step of any exercise program is to talk with your doctor. He or she can give you personalized advice on the types of exercises that are best for you.
Your doctor may also write you a prescription for physical therapy. A physical therapist can assess your movements and design an exercise program that addresses your weaknesses and accommodates your limitations.
A Program That Works
Most people with psoriatic arthritis should do three types of exercises: stretching and other flexibility movements, strengthening exercises, and cardiovascular workouts. Finding an exercise partner will lead to more enjoyable workouts and make it easier to stay on track.
Flexibility exercises reduce your risk of injuring your joints, help you warm up for other types of workouts, and release tension from your body. Work up to doing 15 minutes of flexibility exercises every day.
Strengthening exercises build muscles that absorb shock and cushion your joints. You don't need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights. You can use light dumbbells or the weight of your own body to provide resistance. Do strengthening exercises every other day.
Aerobic or "cardio" workouts get your heart pumping and your large muscles working. Popular choices include swimming, cycling, or walking. You should include them in your routine three to four times a week. It's wise to start slowly and intensify workouts as you build endurance.
The Right Moves
Though everyone's needs are different, some exercises tend to help many people with psoriatic arthritis and other types of arthritis. For instance, the gentle stretching of yoga and tai chi has been shown to relieve joint pain.
Adding water to your workout can build strength and flexibility with little impact on your joints. Immersing yourself in a pool can improve circulation and support your joints as you move. Ask your doctor about swimming, water aerobics, and water walking.
Often you can find special fitness classes targeted toward people with psoriatic arthritis. Check with your local hospital, YMCA, park district, gym, or community center.
Strike the Best Balance
Working out with psoriatic arthritis can be a balancing act. There are times when you'll need to rest instead. During a flare—when your joints are red and swollen—take it easy to avoid joint damage. And stop any activity that causes you extreme pain.
Your doctor and physical therapist can also advise whether you should avoid certain moves, at least for a while. For instance, if your psoriatic arthritis affects your feet and ankles, you may need to avoid weight-bearing exercises such as running.
The fatigue caused by psoriatic arthritis may mean you need to start slowly and take frequent breaks. But over time you should find that exercise gives you more energy.
Exercise is an essential part of treating psoriatic arthritis. It can reduce joint pain and stiffness and improve quality of life.
For most people with psoriatic arthritis, three types of exercises are recommended: stretching and other flexibility movements, strengthening exercises, and cardiovascular workouts.
Yoga, tai chi, and swimming are also good options.
Take time to rest when needed, especially if you're experiencing a flare.