Regular exercise is beneficial for everyone, especially those with arthritis.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 58 million adults in the United States have arthritis.1 It can be a debilitating and painful disease, but regular exercise can help make movement easier and reduce joint pain.
If you have arthritis, moving your body regularly might help you start enjoying your days again and give you some freedom to pursue physical activities that you used to think were impossible, like sports or dancing. We’ll review some of the best exercises for arthritis below.
What is arthritis?
The medical term “arthritis” refers to various joint conditions and joint pain affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are more than 100 types of arthritis affecting individuals of all ages, not just older adults.2
Symptoms of arthritis typically impact your joints and include:3
- Diminished range of motion
Unfortunately, arthritis symptoms can also make everyday tasks difficult and painful, like walking up the stairs. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and come and go throughout the years. For instance, they may get worse with time or come and go randomly.
Sometimes, the symptoms of arthritis can also cause physical changes, such as knobby joints. However, the joint damage is usually only visible with an X-ray.
What are the benefits of exercise for arthritis?
It might seem counterproductive to move achy and painful joints more, but exercise can help improve symptoms of arthritis.
According to the CDC, adults with arthritis can decrease their joint pain and improve overall function by about 40% if they are physically active.1 When combined with a medical treatment program, research indicates exercise can help keep you moving by providing the following benefits:4
- Strengthening the muscles that surround your joints
- Maintaining bone strength
- Improving energy and mood
- Enhancing your sleep quality
- Helping control your weight
- Improving balance
Despite the many benefits of exercising with arthritis, it’s always best to consult your doctor before beginning any new exercise routine. They may also have recommendations for specific exercises and routines that may be most beneficial and appropriate for you individually.
What are the best exercises for arthritis?
The best exercises for arthritis depend on the type of arthritis they have and which joints are most affected. However, moving your body in the following ways is generally great if you have arthritis.
Walking is one of the best ways to move your body if you have arthritis. It’s an excellent way to maintain a healthy weight or reduce excess weight, which will lessen the stress on your joints and improve your arthritis symptoms.5 Plus, it’s simple, free, and anyone can do it.
If you’re just starting, just walk 5 to 10 minutes a day for a few days a week. Work your way up to walking in 30-minute increments for at least 5 days a week.
Cycling is one of our favorite exercises for arthritis. It’s a fantastic, low-impact exercise that’s great for your heart, muscles, and joints. The physical movement of riding a bike can help lubricate your joints to reduce pain and stiffness, as well as help you maintain a healthy weight and strengthen your muscles.6
You can also easily adjust the intensity of your cycling by modifying the type of terrain you bike on and the distance. You can also use your bike’s gears to ease the burden on your legs, so you’re not putting too much pressure on your knees or hips.
If biking outdoors isn’t your idea of a good time, try Vingo! Our free running and cycling app allows you to use any stationary bike to ride on exciting trails in real-world virtual locations like Iceland and Japan. You can easily adjust the intensity of your ride and even create a personalized avatar, complete with your choice of workout clothes, gear, and a friendly pup to ride or run alongside you.
3. Swimming or water aerobics
Swimming and water aerobics help improve circulation and blood flow, and the water lessens the impact of movement on your joints, which means you’re less likely to experience more arthritis symptoms. Research indicates swimming is one of the better exercises for arthritis because it can help reduce joint pain and stiffness and improve overall mobility and quality of life.7,8
Best of all, you don’t have to have a pool to enjoy these benefits. Using a community pool or the pool at your local YMCA or gym can be just as effective and convenient.
4. Weight training
Strength training is a fantastic workout for just about everyone, but it’s especially beneficial for those with arthritis. Not only does it support and protect joints, but it can also help ease stiffness, pain, and even swelling in some instances.9
Although the benefits are incredible and it’s one of the most effective exercises for arthritis, proceed with caution if you’ve never lifted weights before. It’s a good idea to start slowly with light weights and work with a physical therapist if possible. Avoid exercising at times of the day when you’re typically the stiffest (like mornings), and make sure to warm up before every exercise session. Don’t forget to get plenty of rest, too!
5. Yoga or Tai Chi
Gentle mind-body practices like yoga or Tai Chi help reduce arthritis symptoms and improve joint flexibility. They’re also highly beneficial for your overall physical and mental health.10
Even better, many communities offer access to free group yoga or Tai Chi classes, making it easy to start. Invite a friend to go along with you to stay motivated and engaged.
6. Household chores
Inactivity shortens muscles and tendons and weakens ligaments, ultimately worsening arthritis symptoms. So when all else fails and you can’t do any of the above exercises for arthritis, you can still stay active with basic household tasks!
Anything that keeps you moving is great, such as gardening, vacuuming, or walking your dog. Just make sure not to overexert yourself.
How to protect yourself from injuries
- Go slow and don’t overdo it. Listen to your body and stop if you experience sharp or severe pain.
- Focus on low-impact activities and move your joints gently, especially when first starting your routine.
- Use heat to relax your joints before exercising and reduce any joint pain.
- Use ice after your workout to reduce any discomfort.
- Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts as you get stronger.
What exercises should you avoid with arthritis?
Generally, high-impact exercises aren’t ideal for those with arthritis because they may worsen symptoms. Examples include running, jogging, or jumping rope.
How much exercise is ideal for those with arthritis?
The CDC recommends people with arthritis get about 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week.1 That’s about 30-35 minutes per day.
Key Takeaways:Low-impact exercise like cycling, swimming, or strength training are ideal exercises for arthritis. Just 30 minutes of exercise daily can help reduce arthritis symptoms and improve quality of life. If you’re just getting started, riding a stationary bike with Vingo can ensure exercise is safe, fun, and effective for those with arthritis.
- Exercise to Ease Arthritis Pain. (2020, December 31). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/communications/features/arthritis-exercise.html
- What Is Arthritis? | Arthritis Foundation. (n.d.). https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/what-is-arthritis
- Arthritis Society. (n.d.). What is Arthritis – Inflammatory Diseases. https://arthritis.ca/about-arthritis/what-is-arthritis
- Exercise helps ease arthritis pain and stiffness. (2023, January 5). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/arthritis/in-depth/arthritis/art-20047971
- How to Create a Walk Routine. (n.d.). https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/physical-activity/walking/building-a-walking-workout
- Dumain, T. (2019). Cycling and Arthritis: Why Cycling Is Good for Your Joints, and How to Get Started. CreakyJoints. https://creakyjoints.org/diet-exercise/cycling-and-arthritis/
- Alkatan, M., Baker, J. P., Machin, D. R., Park, W., Akkari, A. S., Pasha, E. P., & Tanaka, H. (2016). Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis. The Journal of Rheumatology, 43(3), 666–672. https://doi.org/10.3899/jrheum.151110
- Song, J., & Oh, J. (2022). Effects of Aquatic Exercises for Patients with Osteoarthritis: Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Healthcare, 10(3), 560. https://doi.org/10.3390/healthcare10030560
- Harvard Health. (2021, February 3). 5 weight training tips for people with arthritis. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/5-weight-training-tips-for-people-with-arthritis
- News-Medical.net. (2023, January 23). Yoga and Tai chi in Rheumatoid Arthritis. https://www.news-medical.net/health/Yoga-and-Tai-chi-in-Rheumatoid-Arthritis.aspx