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06 Dec 2005


I have arthritis (disk degeneration) affecting last disk. I want to exercise but am terrified. I used to be a good swimmer but am now unfit and overweight and 40. What can I do to exercise without harming my back further? If a swim, how much, how often ... Please don't refer to heart rate etc. as I don't know how to calculate it. Can you refer to laps/strokes (I belong to Virgin Active). I manage the pain with a supplement that truly does work. Standing, walking or sitting for long periods doesn't work for me so I think swimming is it. Can I firm up all over by swimming alone and also achieve maximum fitness? I'm female if you hadn't guessed already and am following a healthy eating plan.
Thank you
Answer 474 views

01 Jan 0001

Hi Disky

This is a tricky problem, and I sympathise with your dilemma. I hope that I can offer you some advice that will be able to help you. I think that swimming is a good form of exercise, because it removes all strain from the back. Things like running would be potentially hazardous, and cycling, because of the posture, may also hurt, but you may be able to cycle very easily on the odd occasion - that's something that you would have to experiment with, letting pain be your guide.

As for the swimming, you are an experienced swimmer so you know what it takes. The key is to get back into the water and build up slowly to a level that you can sustain. Too much too soon not only loads the back, but every other joint too, and it's demanding and tiring, so be careful not to do too much. Unfortunately, I can't say you should do X number of laps, because that differs for everyone, but what you need to do is go down to a pool and then swim a few lengths and just feel your way through it. If you manage say 10 lengths (or 20 of an indoor pool, I'm not sure what the pool setup is), that's 500 m and it's a good start. You should not be absolutely exhausted when you finish up, just tired but feeling strong. Then, take a day off and come back the day after and do another 500 m (or whatever you managed that first time). I would say that for the first two weeks, you should just swim this distance that allows you to finish the swim feeling strong and tired and no more. Swim every second day so that you have plenty of recovery time. Then, after about 2 weeks, increase by about 100 m in length, so now you do, for example, 600 m. One week later, go up again. if you do this, then in about 5 or 6 weeks, you will be swimming a kilometer. Obviously, if you start off with 200 m, that's fine, just build up slowly, that's the key.

Once you reach a kilometer, then you start experimenting with training. You can do one lap fast, one lap easy. One lap crawl, one lap breaststroke etc. It's up to you, and you can also increase the duration one day a week so that you build up towards 2000 m of swimming. That would be about 40 to 60 minutes of swimming altogether, maybe a little less, depending on how you do the session and that would be ideal. The key is consistency, swimming is a great form of exercise but it does take time, it's a relatively 'slow acting' form, for want of a better word and so just be patient and stick with it.

If you do experience any pain at all swimming, then stop and have it assessed. You may also benefit from doing specific exercise for the back, which you can get from a biokineticist or a chiropractor perhaps, to try to strengthen the musces in the back, just generally improve your conditions. Perhaps, you are at the gym, you should consider a class of core training once a week or even twice a week, just be careful not to strain your back doing this.

Good luck
The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical examination, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.
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