If you suffer from gout, you know how painful a flare-up can be. You might be thinking the last thing you feel like doing is getting exercise when your joints are feeling stiff and swollen — but did you know that avoiding exercise when you have gout sets you up for a vicious cycle? Inactivity results in less flexibility, bone loss, and weaker joints and muscles — all of which worsen and intensify gout pain. While you may not be up for training for a triathlon, getting some regular, moderate exercise can go a long way toward preventing a gout attack. Read on for some tips on how to exercise if you suffer from gout.
First, it’s helpful to understand that gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that causes joints to swell. Gout is caused by elevated levels of uric acid in the blood.Needle-like crystals form inside your joint linings, which is the source of the pain. Acute attacks can come on quickly and cause intense pain, usually in the big toe joint, knees and ankles, although wrist, finger and elbow joints can be affected too. Gout treatment includes medication, dietary changes, herbal supplements that reduce uric acid and drinking more water.
Best Exercises for Gout Sufferers
Exercise can reverse the harmful effects of inactivity — exercise builds muscle, improves flexibility and increases bone density. If you’re overweight, exercise can help you lose some weight too, which can alleviate gout symptoms. Before you race to the gym or hit the pavement, it’s important to note that some exercises are better than others for reducing gout symptoms and preventing acute attacks.
Strenuous exercise can increase uric acid in your blood, so it is absolutely essential you stay well-hydrated before, during and after any exercise. And this means water — don’t reach for those sugary sports drinks or you can do more harm than good for your gout! Learn more about thedangers of sugary drinks for gout here.
Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise routine. If you’re in the midst of an acute attack, your doctor will likely tell you to treat the immediate symptoms with ice, medication, fluids and rest and hold off on the exercise until the pain and swelling subsides.
Cardio Exercises for Gout
Cardio, sometimes called aerobic exercise, gets your heart rate up and improves your energy and stamina. The best cardio exercises for gout are:
Walking: Walking is one of the simplest and best ways to ease into an exercise routine — all you need is a good pair of walking shoes. A meandering stroll through a park isn’t going to get your heart rate up, so try to walk a little faster and swing your arms gently. If you’re thinking, “But walking is boring,” invite a friend and turn it into a regular social outing. Or listen to your favorite podcasts or audiobooks. You might find yourself walking a little longer if your podcast or book reaches an exciting part!
Swimming: Swimming and water aerobics are excellent exercises if you have gout because you’re not putting as much stress on your joints. Swimming increases joint mobility and flexibility.
Biking: Biking is another beneficial cardio exercise for gout patients since it’s low impact. Stick to paved trails — rugged mountain bike trails can be jarring, and your risk of crashing is much higher!
Elliptical Trainer: If the weather forces you indoors, head to the gym or invest in an elliptical trainer. The gliding motion you do on an elliptical trainer provides excellent low-impact aerobic exercise.
Strength Training Exercises for Gout
Strength training uses resistance to build muscle mass and increase strength. Increased muscle strength is important because muscles support your joints and protect them from injury. If you’re new to strength training, it may be well worth the investment to set up a couple of sessions with a personal trainer to help you learn how to perform exercises correctly — otherwise, you can injure yourself. You can do strength training exercises at home or in a gym.
Hand Weights: Don’t try to bench press those heavy weights! Lightweight hand weights, from one to five pounds, are all you need. You can find tips online on how to get started using hand weights.
Floor Exercises: You can do pushups, planks, and squats to strengthen your arms, core (torso) muscles and legs.
Resistance Bands: Resistance bands are like large rubber bands and can be a great, low-stress way to improve strength. You can wrap them around your legs and do a variety of leg lifts. You can wrap them around supports such as a doorknob and pull back to strengthen your arms. Here’s a link to 20 ways to use resistance bands.
Range of Motion Exercises for Gout
Range of motion exercises involve flexibility movements and stretching, and help joints function properly. These exercises are great for improving flexibility and preventing stiffness. You can do some basic movements at home such as rolling your shoulders back and forth.
Yoga: Yoga is one of the best exercises for gout since it increases flexibility! Yoga involves a lot of stretching too, so it helps increase blood circulation — improved blood circulation helps prevent uric acid crystals from forming. You can take a yoga class or find online tutorials.
Qi Gong: Qi gong is a series of body movements that feature slow, gentle movements synchronized with your breathing, usually done while standing. Qi gong movements best for gout include lowering and squatting, raising and rotating the arms and bending to work the spine. You can take qi gong classes or find online videos such as this YouTube one to learn more about this ancient practice.
Stretching Exercises for Gout
Some of the exercises we mentioned above include stretching as part of their movement — stretching is crucial for gout since it improves flexibility.
Wrists: Make two fists and roll your wrists clockwise 30 seconds each. Repeat and roll counterclockwise for another 30 seconds.
Ankles: Sit and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Pretend to draw circles in the air with your toe and roll your ankles 10 times clockwise and then 10 times counterclockwise. Repeat using our left ankle.
Knees: Your knees are supported by muscles in your legs such as the quadriceps (front side) and hamstrings (back side). To stretch your quads, stand and hold onto a counter or chair with one hand. Bend one knee backward and grab your ankle with your free hand. Gently pull your foot toward the back of your leg and hold for 10 seconds and then gradually increase the time. Repeat on the other leg. You can also do this exercise while lying on your stomach.
To stretch your hamstrings, lie on the floor and lift one leg into the air with your knee bent. Wrap your hands or a towel around your thigh just below the knee. Gently straighten your leg so that the flat of your foot is facing the ceiling and hold for 10 seconds and then gradually increase the time.
The key takeaway here is to start slow and don’t overdo it. It’s best to give your body time to recover if you feel sore. You can also alternate your activities — for example, one day do something cardio and the next do some strength training. Many people have eliminated their gout symptoms by exercising regularly, usually combined with dietary changes and weight loss.