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Home Health Education Living With Joint Pain
Cycling for Exercise Offers Arthritis Patients Fun, Variety and Comfort Print E-mail

For people with arthritis, the right kind of exercise may strengthen muscles and ligaments supporting their joints. For many, riding a bicycle is an excellent choice.

You can enjoy biking outdoors or ride a stationary bike indoors when the weather is bad, removing the weather as a barrier to your exercise program. And, because it is an aerobic exercise, cycling helps maintain a healthy bodyweight by burning calories. Controlling your weight is very good for your joints.

  • Riding a bicycle is not jarring to the joints the way running can be.
  • It can be fun, which is crucial for helping you stay committed to an exercise program. It can be done from virtually any fitness level.
  • The most out-of-shape couch potato can start with the gears set for the least resistance and pedal slowly; while advanced cyclists can go as fast and as vigorously as they wish.

Biking strengthens muscles and is also a good cardiovascular workout for your heart and lungs.

So what's the most important bicycling tip for an arthritis patient?

"The most important precaution an arthritis sufferer can take is to make sure the height of the seat is comfortable," says Todd Keuneke, Fitness Specialist for Fitness by Koehlinger in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

"You want the seat to be at a level that won't make you fully extend your leg while pedaling," Keuneke says. "Fully extending or overextending your leg causes your joints to be overworked, which leads to pain and swelling."

Set the pedal so your leg is just slightly bent (not totally straight) when your foot reaches the bottom of the pedal-stroke.

How long should you ride to gain a health benefit?

"In order to get a good workout from biking, you want to aim for a minimum of 15 to 20 minutes or more, at a steady pace," Keuneke says.

Loose fitting shirts are best to wear while going out for a bike ride, with fabrics that are cool and lightweight on hot days. You also want to make sure you wear a shoe that has a flexible non-slippery sole, which allows you to pedal easier. Long pants protect your legs, but make sure they aren't loose enough to catch in the bike's gears.

Other cycling tips:

  • Wear a helmet. There's no point in exercising to improve your body and putting your head at risk at the same time.
  • Make it more fun, if you can. Find a scenic route. Use a route that keeps you off congested roads. Pedal your way to a local park. Indoors, listen to music or watch TV while you pedal on your stationary bike.
  • In the summer, ride early in the day, before the sun starts sizzling.
  • Choose the right bike. There are many styles. Consider a visit to a retailer specializing in bicycles. The expanded inventory and knowledgeable staff may be worth a few extra dollars.
  • For many, a good choice is a "comfort bike." You'll sit more upright, on a seat that is more "ample," with decent shock-absorption. These bikes, as the name implies, are designed to make your ride comfortable, even if you sacrifice a bit in speed.
  • Another option is the recumbent bicycle. These odd-looking cycles place the rider in a semi-reclined position distributing the rider's bodyweight across the buttocks and back. The hands, arms and shoulders are in a relaxed position and are not bearing the weight of the torso. You can get recumbent stationary bikes, too, to exercise indoors.

Also, be aware that patients suffering from knee arthritis involving the kneecap joint (patellofemoral arthritis) could experience aggravation of their condition. Therefore, you should get your doctor's approval before starting any new exercise program. He or she can determine whether this exercise is appropriate for you based on your specific condition and medical history.


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