Kymberly and Alexandra Williams are twin sisters who write about healthy living for Boom-Chicka-Boomers on their website, Fun and Fit. Here is a letter they received from a reader and their response.
Dear Twins: I am 56 years old and have been an ‘off again…on again” exerciser!! When I was much younger I was very athletic. Four years ago I trained to walk a 1/2 marathon but the week before the race, I pulled ligaments in my ankle. Since then I haven’t done much of anything.
About 6 weeks ago I began going to Zumba classes 2-3 times a week. Three weeks ago I began to have a lot of pain in my hips. I went to the doctor and was told I have arthritis in my hips and I also had bursitis. My doctor told me to lay off Zumba for two weeks and gave me a prescription to help with inflammation. He told me that I will probably have to take the medication long term to help with the arthritis but the pain from the bursitis will go away after a week or so. I have tried to go back to the Zumba classes but I am concerned the pain will start back up or get worse. I am in really good health otherwise.
Can you advise me as to the risks I would take if I continued to do the Zumba? Also, what other cardio activities can I do that will be okay with my arthritis in my hips? I really feel my best when I am exercising and just started to feel good and have more energy when the pain started. Any suggestions you may have would help!!
Carla, Abilene, TX
Your question is an excellent one, and will resonate with many of our readers. You are right about the many benefits of exercise, including for arthritis. According to the Mayo Clinic, arthritis can be slowed or mitigated with exercise – the challenge is finding the right type.
Exercise and Arthritis Tips
If your doc has cleared you to return to Zumba, you may want to ease in and modify the lateral moves (sideways, such as grapevine). Are you able/ willing to add aqua classes to your workout plan? Zumba aqua dance classes exist. You do not need to be a good swimmer to join an aqua class. Shallow water classes are in water that’s generally hip deep. If your gym has only deep water classes, you can use swim lessons as your workout, then wear the buoyancy belts once you’re a more confident swimmer.
For other cardio options, try anything that is low impact (high intensity is fine, but NOT high impact) and more forward and back than side to side. One caveat – depending on where the arthritis is in your hips, spending a lot of time on a machine such as a stair-stepper could be contraindicated. Besides, you seem to be a person who enjoys group fitness classes, so try a variety of those. A varied exercise plan is more effective than a repetitive one for most people.
You might also consider some stretch and strengthen classes. Stretch to open up the hips and strengthen to give your muscles more of the workload, which eases the load on your skeletal structure (bones). Since you mention a ligament injury to your ankle, I would think strengthening that area might be a priority, especially if compensations are affecting your hips. Have you worked with a physical therapist to strengthen that ankle, while considering the impact on your hips (such as an altered gait)? You can probably even find a therapist who is ALSO a personal trainer by searching at ideafit.com or acefitness.org.
Range of Motion (ROM)
In addition to low-impact cardio and strength training, you may want range of motion exercises too. This article from Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center goes into more detail about everything mentioned above, including the need for tailored, specific range of motion activities.
Rest is an integral part of any exercise regimen, arthritis or no! Check with your doctor about creating the right combo of rest time, anti-inflammatory meds, ice, and possibly even meditation.
Partner with your Doctor
We’ve had good luck getting specific advice for our exercise-loving bodies by choosing primary care doctors who also value exercise. We’ve had some doctors who wanted to prescribe medicine for our arthritic knees. Their advice was to stop exercising. We switched to doctors who used medication as a last resort and aligned with our preference to keep moving. We are not advocating dumping your doc or ignoring his advice; we are advocating getting into a partnership with your doctor so that he can work WITH you to create a plan that includes exercise.
This quote is from Mayo: “Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more painful and stiff. Talk to your doctor about how exercise can fit into your current treatment plan. What types of exercises are best for you depends on your type of arthritis and which joints are involved. Your doctor or a physical therapist can work with you to find the best exercise plan to give you the most benefit with the least aggravation of your joint pain.”
As women who are similar to you – arthritic joints, exercise-loving, youthful minds, mid-50s – we know it’s possible to keep moving. We just have to be pickier than we were 30 years ago. There IS a solution, and your positive attitude will be a big part of it!
Please keep us posted. Happy dancing.