Today, after much deliberation, I decided to buy some new yoga trousers, which got me thinking about arthritis and how this affects how we exercise. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that exercise makes people feel good by releasing endorphins; however I have always found exercising with arthritis difficult, embarrassing and frustrating, and often leaving me feeling bad about myself. So this post discusses how I have learnt to deal with these feelings and find things that have made exercise positive again. Hopefully, other people will find is useful too…
Accept your limitations
This was the hardest part of my arthritis journey — my gut reaction to being limited is to fight it, and boy did I fight. However, I found very quickly that I only hurt myself when I didn’t listen to my body. I had real grief over the loss of my functionality: denial, anger, bargaining, depression (with minor cycles of anger–depression) before acceptance. No, I will never be able to run a marathon. Most days I won’t even be able to run for a bus. I’m now OK with this, and I think the fact that I have tried to concentrate on the things I can do has helped enormously, but time has been the biggest factor.
Find something that works for you
Not all sports are going to work for arthritis, but it really depends on your body. Swimming is the first thing that the health professionals recommended to me, and it was the only thing I could do for many years (I was kindly given a waterproof MP3 player when I was really struggling and this was a total game changer as I find swimming lanes to be very dull). Now I row, which I enjoy because it doesn’t require much movement in my ankles and feet, where I have most of my problems. I couldn’t recommend it to anyone who had problems in their hands. I also ride, which works for me because he arthritis is in my legs. If you have hip problems or hand problems, you will struggle. I think you have to find something you find fun otherwise you won’t stick with it. If my body could cope and there were a cheaper way to Go Ape, I’d do it every day!
Don’t feel embarrassed
This is easier said than done; I really couldn’t face going to the gym and exercising in my special wonky way in front of people so I bought a rowing machine and I use it at home. Equipment is expensive, but I use it a lot, and it is worth it for me because I can’t make use of most parts of gym membership. I also do yoga at home. I have done classes with the arthritis, and most yoga teachers are very happy to help me find a variant to a position that works for me; however I don’t have a local class that suits my timing at the moment; I prefer not to sign up for a block of classes in case I am too sore, which limits me.
Get some decent gear
While it’s perfectly possible for me to row or do yoga in an old t-shirt, I don’t feel very motivated when I do. I find what I wear affects my mental state, so I have some nice things to work out in. I was in Primark recently, and discovered a very pretty pair of leggings, which are very similar to these from FreePeople:
Only the Primark ones cost £7:
I’ve always been a bit wary of Primark since it was reported that their factories used child labour in 2008 and 2014. But they seem to have upped their game (however, it seems all a company in trouble has to do is deny the allegation then quietly change working conditions, and in these days of ‘alternative facts’ I am not sure what to believe).
The channel 4 Dispatches programme about River Island, BooHoo, New Look and Misguided was an eye opener. I like cheap clothes, but I would rather not buy something than know that someone was earning less than the minimum wage to make it for me; however, it seems to be an ethical minefield — if these guys were caught red-handed, who else is at it? There are fantastic companies that promote ethical production. I have some lovely t-shirts from Kindred, for example; however, I wouldn’t want a horse to sneeze all over a £25 t-shirt.
In the end, I decided to buy the trousers, the fabric on the Primark leggings is a little thin — they’re certainly not as nice as the FreePeople ones, but for a bit of in-house yoga or rowing, they look great, and are a fantastic price if you don’t need to invest in gym wear.
Not including something like riding, which requires specific safety gear, the one aspect I wouldn’t skimp on is a good sports bra. I can only speak for someone with big boobs, but moulded-cup crop-tops won’t cut it because if you can stretch it enough to get it over your head it will not hold the boobs still. You need a bra with a clasp. I once broke a regular bra while horse riding, so it does matter. I don’t get on at all with the Shock Absorber bras, I find them really uncomfortable and their sizing weird. Triumph have a good selection for the DD+ sorority; many have racer-backs, which I find more comfortable when I am moving my arms a lot, which are harder to find on DD+ bras. I can also recommend this bra from Debenhams:
It’s great value and really supportive. It feels much more expensive than it is.
And for tops, I’m a big fan of long vests (I don’t like exposing my post-child tummy). If money were no object and I didn’t have to wear a hulking great bra underneath it, I’d buy this:
But back in reality, H&M have a good selection; there are lots of pinks, which seems to be this season’s colour and perfectly apt to match the colour my face goes:
So, I guess I should stop procrastinating and actually go and do some. I’d love to hear any tips regarding getting active, from people with arthritis or otherwise. I’ve purposefully not discussed trainers here, because yoga and rowing don’t need specific footwear, and I don’t feel qualified to recommend anything, but if anyone has any recommendations of footwear for particular arthritis-friendly sports, let me know.