The Best Medicine for Arthritis

Understanding Arthritis and the Benefits of Physical Activity

That’s right, the best medicine for arthritis is physical activity. Regular physical activity has countless benefits. And if you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, understanding Arthritis is one of the most important steps you can take to help yourself. Knowing the benefits of regular physical activity and following up with that knowledge can help you stay active for a long time.

Being inactive is not an option for those of us with arthritis so be sure to use it as a motivator, and not an excuse. Participating in  physical activity improves pain, function, mood, and quality of life without making symptoms worse. Above all, being physically active can delay the onset of disability. Another benefit is that it will help people manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Safe, enjoyable physical activity is possible for most adults with arthritis. If you have arthritis you can safely exercise on your own or join one of many programs available in your community.

Watch the Arthritis Pain Reliever video to learn more about the benefits of physical activity and the types and amounts of exercise that can help. And  be sure to check with your doctor to be sure your exercise plans are approved for your form of arthritis. For example – with osteoarthritis of the hip, my doctor warned against jumping exercises. It was then that I realized it was my new jump rope that was the cause of my pain. When I stopped jumping and started the lateral elliptical, my symptoms were greatly improved.

Exercise as a Treatment

Research shows that exercise is one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis. Exercise can improve mood and outlook, decrease pain, increase flexibility, strengthen the heart and improve blood flow, maintain weight, and promote general physical fitness.

Exercise is also inexpensive and, if done correctly, has few negative side effects. The amount and form of exercise prescribed will depend on which joints are involved, how stable the joints are, and whether a joint replacement has already been done.

Walking, swimming, and water aerobics are a few popular types of exercise for people with osteoarthritis. Your doctor and/or physical therapist can recommend specific types of exercise depending on your particular situation. Attention to rest and periods of relief from stress on the joints is also important.

On the Move

Fighting Osteoarthritis With Exercise

You can use exercises to keep strong and limber, improve cardiovascular fitness, extend your joints’ range of motion, and reduce your weight. The following types of exercise are part of a well-rounded arthritis treatment plan.

Strengthening Exercises: strengthen muscles that support joints affected by arthritis. They can be performed with weights or with exercise bands, inexpensive devices that add resistance.

Aerobic Activities: get your heart pumping and can keep your lungs and circulatory system in shape. Examples are brisk walking or low-impact aerobics.

Range-of-motion activities: keep your muscles flexible and your joints limber.

Balance and agility exercises: help you maintain daily living skills.

Ask your doctor or physical therapist for guidance about what exercises are best for you. Knowing how much and how long you should be exercising is key, but you should also ask about what you should be avoiding as well.

The safest and most effective physical activities for adults with OsteoArthritis (OA) of the hip and/or knee are low impact, moderate intensity aerobics – such as:

»  walking

»  water exercise

»  cycling

»  muscle strengthening exercises that use different forms of resistance


Investments of as little as 60 minutes per week can yield some improvements for people with OA, but a minimum of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate intensity aerobic and two days of muscle strengthening exercise per week is recommended. This will improve OA pain and joint function and support prevention and management of other chronic conditions.¹

The Health Benefits of Physical Activity

Major Research Findings

»  Regular physical activity reduces the risk of many adverse health outcomes.

»  Some physical activity is better than none.

»  For most health outcomes, added benefits occur as the amount of physical activity increases through higher intensity, greater frequency, and/or longer duration.

»  Most health benefits occur with at least 150 minutes moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking. Additional benefits occur with more physical activity.

»  Both aerobic (endurance) and muscle-strengthening (resistance) physical activity are beneficial.

»  Health benefits occur for children and adolescents, young and middle-aged adults, older adults, and those in every studied racial and ethnic group.

»  The health benefits of physical activity occur for people with disabilities.

»  The benefits of physical activity far outweigh the chance of adverse outcomes.

What are Arthritis-Friendly Activities?

Follow either the Active Adult or Active Older Adult Guidelines from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. See which one  meets your personal health goals and matches your abilities. Remember, start slowly and pay attention to how your body tolerates activity. The most important thing to remember is to find out what works best for you.

Types of Exercise:

These types of exercise offer lots of options for staying fit:

Endurance / Aerobic

Endurance / Aerobic Activities

Aerobic activity is also called “cardio,” endurance, or conditioning exercise. It is any activity that makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe a little harder than when you are sitting, standing or lying. You want to do activity that is moderate or vigorous intensity and that does not twist or “pound” your joints too much.

Some people with arthritis can do vigorous activities such as running and can even tolerate some activities that are harder on the joints like basketball or tennis. You should choose the activities that are right for you. You don’t have to do exercises you don’t enjoy. Choose activities that are not harmful for your type of arthritis and that’s right for you. There are a variety of activities that you can do to meet the Guidelines.

Examples of Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Aerobic Activities

Moderate Intensity

Vigorous Intensity

 » Brisk Walking

 » Bicycling

 » Swimming

 » Mowing the grass, heavy yard work

 » Doubles Tennis

 » Social Dancing

 » Conditioning Machines (e.g., stair climbers, elliptical, stationary bike)

 » Tai Chi, yoga

 » Sports (e.g., softball, baseball, volleyball)

 » Skiing, Roller and Ice skating

 » Jogging / Running

 » Singles Tennis

 » Swimming

 » Jumping Rope

 » Conditioning Machines (e.g., stair climbers, elliptical, stationary bike).

 » Sports (e.g., soccer, basketball, football, racquetball)

 » Aerobic Dance or Spinning Classes

Strength Activities

Muscle strengthening activities. You should do activities that strengthen your muscles at least twice a week in addition to your aerobic activities. Muscle strengthening activities are especially important because having strong muscles takes some of the pressure off the joints.

You can do muscle strengthening exercises in your home, at a gym, or at a community center. Do exercises that work the major muscle groups of the body (e.g., legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). Try to do at least one set of 8 – 12 repetitions (reps) for each muscle group. There are many ways you can strengthen your muscles:

»  Lift  weights using machines, dumbbells, or weight cuffs.
»  Work  with resistance bands.
»  Use your own bodyweight as resistance (e.g., push-ups, sit ups).
»  Heavy gardening (e.g., digging, shoveling).
»  Some group exercise classes.
»  Muscle strengthening exercise videos.

Balance Activities

Balance activities. Many older adults and some adults with arthritis and other chronic diseases may be prone to falling. Furthermore, if you are worried about falling or are at risk of falling, you should include activities that improve balance at least 3 days a week as part of your activity plan. Balance activities can be part of your aerobic or strength activities. Examples of balance improvement activities include:

» Tai Chi
» Backward walking, side stepping, heel and toe walking
» Standing on 1 foot
» Some group exercise classes

Flexibility Activities

Stay flexible. Maintain your flexibility with stretching exercises. Similar to the activities mentioned above, you should do a stretch exercise routine once a week or more. Because many people with arthritis have joint stiffness, daily tasks such as bathing and fixing meals can be difficult. Performing daily flexibility exercises for all of your upper  and lower joints will help you maintain your range of motion which can help prevent stiffness. The joints of your upper body include your neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers. The joints of your lower body include your lower back, hips, knees, ankles and toes. Be sure to find exercises that target them all.

Visit for more information about the definition of arthritis, how to detect the early signs of Arthritis, how to test and treatment options for different types of Arthritis. Most of all, if you think you have Arthritis, be sure to get tested and talk with your doctor. The more you understand Arthritis, with a few adjustments in your daily activities, the better your quality of life will be.

[source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention]

[source:  ¹  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Related Articles:

Arthritis – Facing the Facts

Tips for Reducing Hip Osteoarthritis Pain

Be sure to share this article with your friends and loved ones that are suffering from this disease and support their efforts to get healthier! Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit us. As always, we are wishing you the best of health!

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Author: Joan E Wilder

We provide information and motivation focused on the importance of physical activity to our quality of life. It is our hope to help people invest in themselves by staying active throughout their lives. It's that important.

2 thoughts

    1. Thanks Jim! I’m trying to find what works for my hip OA and have been trying to work it more For strength – especially side movements worth ankle weights and it’s been helping – so I thought I’d share :). Happy Tuesday Jim!

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