Exercising With Arthritis

An estimated 40 million people have some form of arthritis. The two most common forms are osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease characterized by a progressive loss of cartilage, and rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic condition causing the lining of the joints to become inflamed. Both conditions can make exercise a difficult and painful proposition. However, a well-designed physical activity program can decrease joint swelling and pain and improve overall function. Furthermore, regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight (which reduces pressure on your joints) and improve cartilage and bone tissue health. The key is to keep yourself active in a variety of ways, and you will be on your way to greater mobility and better health.

Getting Started

  • Talk with your health care practitioner before starting an exercise program and ask for specific programming recommendations and possible changes to your medications.
  • Select low-impact and non-impact activities such as walking, swimming, water exercise and cycling.
  • An extended warm-up and a gradual cool-down may help reduce the likelihood of aggravating joint pain.
  • Spread your activity throughout the day (e.g., three 10-minute sessions). Set time goals rather than distance goals.
  • Start slowly and gradually progress the intensity and duration of your workouts. Take frequent breaks during activity if needed.
  • Select shoes and insoles for maximum shock absorption.
  • Be prepared to adjust your workouts according to fluctuations in your symptoms.

Exercise Cautions

  • Avoid overstretching.
  • Some discomfort after your workouts is to be expected, but you should not be in pain.
  • Avoid vigorous, highly repetitive activities, particularly if your joints are unstable.
  • If you have arthritis in your feet, consult with your physician or podiatrist before doing high-impact activities such as running.

Your exercise program should be modified to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risk of aggravating your health condition. Consider contacting anACSM-certified fitness professional* who can work with you and your healthcare practitioner to establish realistic goals and design a safe and effective program that addresses your specific needs.