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When you’re suffering from arthritis pain, perhaps the last thing you want to do is exercise. And yet, as counterintuitive as it may seem, gentle movement can make a world of difference when it comes to decreasing the pain and fatigue associated with arthritis, says Dr. Patience White, chief public health officer for the Arthritis Foundation.
The key to making the exercise habit stick is choosing a routine that fits both your physical condition and interests. Of course, always check with your physician before starting an exercise program, especially if it has been some time since you’ve been physically active. Once you get the green light, go slow — just ten or 15 minutes a day — then increase to 30 minutes a day as you build stamina, Dr. White suggests. Include at least one activity from each of these three areas: flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular. Ready? Check out these 8 arthritis-friendly workouts. They’re sure to get you going.
2 / 9 Yoga
Yoga may seem like a new fitness trend, but actually this holistic approach to fitness has been around since ancient times. And it’s been shown to help people with chronic pain — a study from the University of Washington found that those who practiced yoga or did stretching exercises were twice as likely to cut back on pain medications than those who managed back symptoms on their own.
Yoga is based on moving through a routine of set poses, or stretches, which increase flexibility yet protect joints from injury. As your skill builds, the added poses become increasingly challenging in different ways, which makes yoga an exercise routine that grows with you. Another basic yoga concept is that everyone is on his or her own path, progressing at his or her own pace. So leave behind the competitive spirit or fear that you’re not as good as others. Be sure to let your instructor know you have arthritis so he or she can help adapt the poses to match your personal physical limits.
3 / 9 Tai Chi
Tai chi is another ancient exercise form that’s a perfect fit for coping with today’s arthritis pain. This slow and graceful series of movements puts your joints through their full range of motion without any strain or heavy impact. Studies show that the fluid motions of tai chi can reduce arthritis pain while improving mobility, breathing, balance, and relaxation. As with yoga, the only person you are competing with in tai chi is yourself. Look for group classes offered by local community programs, community colleges, or fitness centers. If those aren’t available, pick up a beginner’s tai chi DVD and follow along in your living room.
4 / 9 Water Exercise
Ever wish you could escape the painful pull of gravity tugging at your joints every once in a while? A pool can provide that. Try a water-based exercise routine that takes advantage of the buoyant yet resistant quality of water to increase joint flexibility and/or build strength. There are also water-aerobics routines to exercise your cardiovascular system. Warm water is best for arthritis sufferers, so look for an aquatic center with a heated pool or spa that offers water-exercise classes. As with any new routine, be sure to ask your instructor how to adapt the movements to your condition.
5 / 9 Isometric Exercises
One key way that exercise helps reduce joint pain is by building muscle, which in turn helps take strain and pressure off the joints. Isometric exercises accomplish this by increasing muscle without moving the joint itself: Creating pressure by pushing your palms against each other is one example of an isometric exercise. White recommends that you work with a medical professional or physical therapist to develop an isometric routine that fits your particular needs and abilities.
6 / 9 Isotonic exercises
Isotonic exercises also build muscle and strength, but unlike isometric exercise they do require movement of the joint. Still, these exercises, such as lifting and lowering the leg from the knee while sitting in a chair, are gentle and use your own body weight to create resistance, which makes them a perfect workout for those with arthritis. Again, work with a physical therapist or medical professional to choose the best exercises for your particular situation.
7 / 9 Walking
Want an exercise routine that can be done anytime, anywhere, alone, or with a group? Walking might be a perfect match. It’s safe, low impact, strengthens muscles, and helps keep weight in check. Aim for a pace that leaves you slightly short of breath, but not so much that you can’t carry on a conversation normally. Besides building muscle in the lower body, walking also works out your heart and lungs. Another perk of pounding the pavement; studies have linked simple walking to everything from sounder sleep to a better mood. Start with ten minutes a day and gradually work your way up to 30. And try to walk on as many days of the week as possible!
8 / 9 Bicycling
Take yourself for a spin on a stationary bike indoors or on a two-wheeled version outside. Cycling works your cardiovascular system and builds muscle without stressful impact on the joints. If you haven’t been on a bike since you were a kid, the Arthritis Foundation recommends you start with five-minute sessions three times a day and work your way up.
9 / 9 Golf
Turn your quest to get more active into a game of golf. This fresh-air activity combines walking with gentle range of motion movements, improving your balance and coordination as you play. A wide variety of special equipment — from shoes and gloves to clubs and lower-compression golf balls — can make playing the game easier on those with arthritis. Consult with an occupational therapist for advice on tailoring the game to your ability and needs.