Pain associated with arthritis (whether osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis) often discourages those who suffer from the ailment from living a physically active lifestyle.
However, exercise is actually one of the best ways to treat arthritis, so long as a few basic safety precautions are followed and you choose the appropriate types of activities.
“Exercise has been shown to reduce arthritis joint pain and stiffness, while improving strength around your affected joints and improving quality of life,” says American Council on Exercise fitness expert Beth Shepard.
She recommends sticking with low-impact exercises like swimming, aqua aerobics, elliptical training, brisk walking, dancing, and indoor cycling.
Strength training is also important and can help to improve arthritis symptoms.
“Toning muscles so that they are better able to support your body postures will decrease the forces on your joints,” says Joey Gochnour, an exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and registered dietitian based in Austin, Texas.
He does not recommend specific strength exercises because arthritis-related pain is localized and different between individuals. The exercises you should focus on most will depend on in which joints and areas you feel the most pain. For this reason, it’s advised that you work with an experienced personal trainer or physical therapist to achieve the best results.
Though Gochnour did add, “Any exercise that is light and brings blood flow to muscles surrounding the joint is likely to help with decreasing inflammation related to arthritis.”
That said, certified health coach and personal trainer Clint Fuqua notes that regular movement of the entire body is a smart approach to relieving arthritis pain.
“There is no single magical exercise that will prevent and/or relieve arthritis,” he said. “The magic is in the movement of the body and how the movements are performed.”
He also suggests aquatic based exercises for reducing joint stress.
“Place [your joints] in an environment where they have to move slowly and deliberately,” he added, pointing out that activities like yoga and Tai Chi can also be helpful.
Before you get started with an exercise routine, though, as Shepard made a point of highlighting, it’s imperative that you first consult your doctor.
Once you get the go ahead, she offers the following tips for getting started:
- Plan to exercise at a time of day when you typically experience the least amount of joint pain.
- Invest in a good pair of sneakers that are cushioned so you’ll have ample protection against impact.
- Always warm-up and cool-down before and after exercising.
- Take it easy, especially when you’re just starting out, and progress slowly.
- Keep track of your symptoms and discuss them with your doctor so you can establish what’s normal for you in terms of discomfort during and after exercise.
- Scale back and ease up when experiencing a flare-up. Avoid strenuous activity.