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Gout and Exercise: What You Need to Know

Updated on September 1, 2016

Should You Exercise With Gout?

You can watch the news, flip through a magazine or read the latest headlines in the paper and see countless information on the importance of exercise for your health. It is a well-known fact that regular cardiovascular exercise can improve heart health, decrease cancer risk, and decrease inflammation in the body, in addition to the cosmetic reasons for exercise, such as weight loss.

But what if you have a painful medical condition that makes exercise difficult? How can you exercise when it hurts?

If you have gout, sometimes the last thing you want to be doing exercising, despite the fact that exercising may actually help you feel better.

What if you have a painful medical condition that makes exercise difficult? How can you exercise when it hurts?

What Causes the Pain?

Gout is a type of arthritis that is caused by an overabundance of uric acid in the blood. Most people can process this excess uric acid, but for people who cannot, the uric acid may collect in the joints (often in the big toe) and form uric acid crystals.

This collection of uric acid crystals can cause a large amount of pain, especially during movement.

Gout is often caused by being overweight, taking certain medications (for example, certain diuretics), and consuming certain foods and beverages — for example, artificial sweeteners and gout do not go together. Foods that are high in purine tend to cause gout or exacerbate the problem. Alcohol also is known to exacerbate gout.

High purine foods are broken down into uric acid in the body. People with gout are recommended to avoid these foods, as they can cause their pain.

Foods high in purine include gravies, certain fish (anchovies, mackerel, herring, sardines), organ meats, and certain meats such as bacon, lamb, beef and pork.

If you have gout, sometimes the last thing you want to be doing exercising, despite the fact that exercising may actually help you feel better.
If you have gout, sometimes the last thing you want to be doing exercising, despite the fact that exercising may actually help you feel better.

Why Is Exercise Good for People With Gout?

Although the actual act of exercise doesn’t break down uric acid crystals and thus stop gout flare-ups from happening, regular exercise can keep weight in check.

Being overweight can cause gout in the first place, and gaining weight when you already have gout can make it worse. It stands to reason that regular exercise can keep the extra pounds off, reducing the flare-ups associated with gout.

Regular exercise may, in general, reduce flare-ups, regardless of weight.

Do You Exercise With Gout?

How often do you exercise while managing gout?

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Although the actual act of exercise doesn’t break down uric acid crystals and thus stop gout flare-ups from happening, regular exercise can keep weight in check.
Although the actual act of exercise doesn’t break down uric acid crystals and thus stop gout flare-ups from happening, regular exercise can keep weight in check.

What Types of Exercise Should I Do?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises 30 minutes of moderate-intense activity on most days of the week. Some adults may benefit from more exercise, especially if weight loss is a concern. The type of exercise can be personalized to the person.

In general, if you’ve been suffering with gout for a long time and have not yet started an exercise routine, start small with a low-impact cardio routine, such as swimming.

Swimming is low-impact on the joints because it allows you to have full function of the joints without the stress of gravity, which can also reduce pain.

Another low-impact exercise is walking. Yoga can also be low-impact if modifications are made by an instructor.

Coping With a Chronic Illness

Low-Impact Cardio

Try these low-impact cardio exercises:

  • Walking
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing machine
  • Elliptical
  • Hiking
  • Water aerobics
  • Tai Chi
  • Yoga
  • Pilates

In general, if you've been suffering with gout for a long time and have not yet started an exercise routine, start small with a low-impact cardio routine.
In general, if you've been suffering with gout for a long time and have not yet started an exercise routine, start small with a low-impact cardio routine.

You may have heard the adage, “push through the pain” — you don’t need to do this when your gout is acting up.

What If I Tried and It Hurts Too Bad?

During an acute exacerbation, rest is recommended. You may have heard the adage, “push through the pain” — you don’t need to do this when your gout is acting up.

There are several ways to treat the pain at home. Apply ice to the joint that is in pain — this can reduce swelling.

Elevating the joint can also help if there is swelling. Taking an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication can help with the pain.

Aspirin is contraindicated for gout pain, unless prescribed by your doctor, because it can affect the uric acid levels in your blood and actually make pain worse. However, you may have a different reason for taking aspirin and this should be discussed on an individual basis with your doctor.

It is recommended to rest the affected joint for 24 hours after you are feeling better. After 24 hours, feel free to get moving again, with your exercise of choice!

Written by Krystina Ostermeyer

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