How to keep active if you live with chronic pain

This is such an important topic. There are 14 million people in the UK that live with pain regularly (according to the charity Pain UK). For people who live every day with chronic pain, gentle exercise can be very beneficial. It is also so important for the fitness level of your heart and helping improve your mood as well.

Conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, and uncomplicated back pain are all helped by gentle exercise, as long as it is done in the right way. Exercise is also excellent for weight management, which in turn can help reduce stresses on the joints as well.

Exercise ideas

1. Walking. The key is start walking for short durations if you are not used to doing much. For example, 10 minutes a day and build this to three lots of 10 minutes a day. You will be amazed by the benefit.

2. Increasing your level of general everyday activity. From playing with kids or grandkids, gentle gardening or even sweeping the floor, they all contribute to general activity and, in turn, help strength and fitness. Spread the chores out over the day and week, and pace yourself. This can really help.

3. Gentle stretching and strengthening exercises that can be done in your own home. There are a huge number to choose from. Ask your physiotherapist for directions. These can be as simple as turning your head to look over your shoulder or lifting your arms up as if to lift something from a high shelf. Aim to do stretches every day if you can. Have a look at this Arthritis UK advice for ideas.

4. Swimming, hydrotherapy and gentle aqua aerobics in a heated pool. These are really low impact activities, and excellent for fitness and pain management too.

5. Cycling (including a static cycle) and gentle gym exercises. For example, a cross-trainer or using light weights in the gym

6. Yoga, Pilates and T'ai Chi. The types that look at posture, breathing and meditation in particular (eg Hatha Yoga) are especially beneficial for fitness, flexibility and pain management.

How much activity should we be doing?

We should aim for three bouts of 30 minutes of physical activity a week. We should also spend a further 30 minutes on our feet a day.

Don't worry if you are a way off that. Any activity is better than none, and it is best to build it up slowly. For further reading, there are some excellent resources on the Arthritis Research UK website. Remember to check with your doctor or physiotherapist before starting a new exercise programme, just to check that it is safe for you to do so.

Dr Jennifer Kelly is a GP and founder of the Grace Kelly Ladybird Appeal charity (for awareness and research into childhood cancers).


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