There’s no cure for arthritis, but sufferers have a powerful, cheap way to manage their aches and pains – exercise. But where do you start if you’re a beginner? We have the 5 best exercises for people with arthritis, plus easy tips to get you started. And the best part? These workouts are fun and stress-relieving, will ease symptoms and help you lose weight.
When your arthritis makes it hurt to just get out of your chair, it’s no surprise you’re tempted to stay put. But moving your body is exactly what you need.
Physical activity actually is the best medicine for arthritis pain relief.
Believe it or not, “exercise can decrease pain, particularly for people with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis,” says Patience White, M.D., chief public health officer of the Arthritis Foundation and professor of medicine and pediatrics at the George Washington University School of Medicine.
How much you exercise is up to you, your schedule and what your body can handle. For arthritis pain relief, just 20 minutes three times a week is enough to make a difference.
Your workout should be challenging, but not painful enough to cause injury, Holman says. You’ve overdone it if you have joint or muscle pain that continues for two hours after exercising or if pain is worse the next day.
So what exercise should you do?
To get started, check out these 5 types of exercise – they’re sure to ease your arthritis symptoms.
How it helps: Walking strengthens muscles, which helps shift pressure from the joints, and reduces pain. It also compresses and releases cartilage in your knees, bringing nourishing oxygen to your joints.
Get started: The Arthritis Foundation recommends walking 10 minutes at least 3-5 days a week. As you get stronger, take longer walks and incorporate short bursts of speed into a moderate pace until you build up to walking 3-4 miles an hour.
Keep in mind: People with severe hip or knee problems should check with their doctor before starting a walking program.
2. Water Exercise
How it helps: Warm water – between 83˚ F and 90˚ F – helps relax your muscles and decrease pain, according to the University of Washington Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. So exercises like swimming and aerobics, walking and jogging in water are good for stiff, sore joints.
Water also supports your body as you move, which reduces stress on the hips, knees and spine, and offers resistance without weights. They’re ideal for people who need to relieve severe arthritis pain in hips and knees.
“Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so you’re really strengthening and building muscle,” according to Arthritis Today.
Get started: Sign up for a water exercise class or use these tips to get started:
- Stand in shoulder-height water and walk the same way you would on land. Then walk backward and sideways to tone more muscles.
- Stand up straight and maintain your posture to avoid straining your back.
- Lift your knees higher as you walk to boost your workout.
- Try interval training – pumping your arms and legs faster for a brief period then returning to your normal pace.
Keep in mind: Because your body is supported in water, aquatic workouts don’t build bone density. So you’ll need to add walking or lifting light weights to your exercise routine.
3. Indoor Cycling
How it helps: “Indoor cycling is an excellent way to get a cardiovascular workout without stressing weight-bearing joints,” says Matthew Goodemote, head physical therapist at Community Physical Therapy & Wellness in Gloversville, N.Y.
A stationary bike is also a good option for people with balance problems – common among inactive arthritis patients – because there’s no need to lean the bike to turn.
Get started: Adjust the seat height so your knee is as straight as possible when the pedal is at the lowest point, advises the University of Washington Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine.
Don’t pedal faster than 50-60 revolutions per minute. Add resistance only after you’ve warmed up for five minutes, but don’t add so much that you have trouble pedaling. Start with a 5-minute session at a comfortable pace three times a day. When you can ride pain-free, increase to seven minutes, ramping up to 10, 15 and 20 minutes at a time.
Keep in mind: People with very painful knees should avoid indoor cycling, because it can aggravate the condition.
How it helps: Beginner yoga classes’ simple, gentle movements gradually build strength, balance and flexibility – “all elements that may be especially beneficial for people with arthritis,” says Steffany Haaz, MFA, a certified movement analyst, registered yoga teacher and research coordinator with the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center.
Yoga has many benefits: it increases energy, promotes a positive mental outlook, which helps patients better cope with arthritis, and also reduces inflammation.
Get started: Take a yoga class at a yoga studio, gym or community center. Tell the instructor before class that you have arthritis issues so they can help modify poses to accommodate your limited mobility.
More comfortable exercising at home? Gaiam, a company that produces yoga videos, recently collaborated with the Mayo Clinic and produced Mayo Clinic Wellness Solutions for Arthritis DVD.
It has tips from specialists and a segment showing arthritis-specific yoga poses and meditation exercises designed to relieve tension and enhance circulation, which helps relieve arthritis pain.
Keep in mind: Yoga should never hurt. If you feel pain in a pose, you’re probably overdoing it. With the use of props – blankets, straps, even chairs – yoga poses can be modified to accommodate people with very limited range of motion, strength or balance.
5. Tai Chi
How it helps: A traditional style of Chinese martial arts that goes back centuries, tai chi features slow, rhythmic movements to induce mental relaxation and enhance balance, strength and flexibility.
Tai chi is extremely valuable to arthritis patients because its movements are slow and controlled and put little force on the joints.
Several studies have shown that tai chi improves mental well-being, life satisfaction and perceptions of health, which address the negative effects of chronic pain associated with arthritis.
If you suffer from knee pain, tai chi has particular benefits. Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine found that the Chinese workout improved physical function and reduced pain in patients over 65 years old with knee osteoarthritis.
Keep in mind: Tai chi is often done in the morning, but it’s best to exercise whenever you have the least pain and stiffness, when you’re not tired and when your arthritis medication is most effective, according to the UW Orthopedics and Sports Medicine department.
If your joints tend to be stiff, it also helps to take a warm (not hot) shower before exercise.