Arthritis is a condition involving inflammation of one or more joints in the body, typically causing stiffness, pain and other issues as we age. If you have arthritis, you might feel like exercising is the last thing you want to do. But not exercising actually can lead to more stiffness and pain, because without it, our supporting muscles become weak. It’s important to stick with a regular exercise routine to strengthen muscles around the joints, maintain bone strength, improve flexibility, keep your weight in a healthy range – and more.
What is the best exercise for arthritis sufferers?
The best exercise program for someone with arthritis will be low impact and joint-friendly. Before beginning your workout, it’s a good idea to apply heat to affected areas to help relax your joints and muscles. Consider a warm shower or applying a warm towel for about 20 minutes.
Start out by moving gently with a 10-minute warm up, then go slowly while exercising. Most importantly, listen to your body. Don’t overdo it! Post workout, if needed, apply ice to your joints for about 20 minutes.
Benefit: Unlike a traditional aerobics class, water aerobics is done in chest-deep water, lessening the impact on joints by up to 75%. These exercises involve upper and lower body, as well as the mid-section, for a total body workout.
Tip: Loosen joints and muscles by warming up for 5-10 minutes with easy walking and arm movements.
Benefit: Compared to regular walking, waist-deep water walking lessens weight on joints by up to 50%, lessening strain on the joints.
Tips: Start by taking a class with an instructor who can teach proper form. Be careful not to overdo your workout, which can lead to fatigue and worsen joint pain.
Benefit: Swimming is a great low-impact exercise that works all muscle groups and builds cardiovascular endurance.
Tip: If necessary, take a swimming lesson to learn proper strokes and to choose the type that is most comfortable on your joints. This will help reduce your risk of injury.
Benefit: Walking is an effective low-impact exercise that strengthens muscles, lessens arthritis pain and (bonus!) reduces stress.
Tip: Downhill walking can cause stress on your knees, so stay on a flat surface.
Benefit: Walking on the treadmill allows you to walk easily at your own pace choosing different speeds, inclines, etc. You can also hold side handlebars for support if needed.
Tip: For the first two weeks, begin by walking 10 to 15 minutes for three or more days (without incline) After two weeks, increase the time you walk each day by 5 to 10 minutes, working up to 30 minutes. When it becomes easy, increase your pace and the incline (not beyond 5%) if desired.
Benefit: Playing golf engages your whole body – legs, upper back, shoulders, hands and wrists. Plus, walking the course is a heart-healthy calorie burning workout.
Tips: Wear golf shoes with soft spikes or sneakers (to avoid tripping), and use lightweight clubs that can be pulled in a cart. Be sure to gently warm up, and if you feel any pain after a few holes stop playing for the day, listen to your body.
Benefit: Shuffleboard provides exercise for both your legs (when pushing forward) and your arms (when pushing the cue and weighted puck).
Tips: Wear non-slip, comfortable shoes and take care to not overdo it beyond your comfortable range of motion. Pushing the puck too hard can aggravate your shoulder and/or elbow, and lunging too deeply can aggravate knee arthritis.
Benefit: Outdoor biking will work all the muscles in your lower body, including your feet. It also offers the added benefit of getting some fresh air!
Tips: The bike seat should be adjusted so when your leg is extended on the down pedal, your knee is at a slight bend. Wear padded cycling gloves to help absorb shock. Also avoid hunching over handlebars which can increase stress on your elbows, hand, and wrists.
Benefit: This mind-body martial arts exercise can reduce arthritis pain, reduce stress and improve balance.
Tips: Comfortable footwear with support is important. If you feel limited with your range of motion, ask the instructor to show you some modified moves. Also note that if you have severe arthritis or issues with balance, Tai Chi may not be an exercise for you.
Benefit: The benefits of yoga are endless! Yoga strengthens muscles, improves flexibility, reduces stress, may promote better sleep and much, much more.
Tips: Avoid any poses that cause strain on your joints. An instructor can help you figure out comfortable resting poses that work best for you. If you find that a mat class aggravates your arthritis, look for a chair yoga class.
Benefit: Pilates is done by stretching the spine while strengthening muscles. This form of exercise can be done on a mat (floor Pilates) or machine.
Tips: Look for a class that focuses on arthritis needs, or try a one-on-one session with a certified teacher (especially when using a machine). Work at your own pace and range of motion.