Understanding Arthritis

Understanding Arthritis and the Benefits of Physical Activity

It’s true. The best medicine for arthritis is physical activity. Regular physical activity has countless benefits. And if you’ve been diagnosed with arthritis, understanding the disease 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. You see being inactive is not an option for those of us with arthritis. So, be sure to use the disease against itself,  as a motivator, 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.

And yet another benefit is that it will help you 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. Be sure to check with your doctor to see if your exercise plans are ok for your form of arthritis. For instance, with osteoarthritis of the hip, my doctor warned against jumping exercises. It was then that I realized my new jump rope was causing additional pain. When I stopped jumping and started using a lateral elliptical, my symptoms improved. I had less pain and more range of motion.

Exercise as a Treatment

Research shows that exercise is one of the best treatments for osteoarthritis. Exercise can improve mood and outlook, decrease pain, and increase flexibility. Additionally, it can strengthen the heart and improve blood flow, help to maintain weight, and promote general physical fitness. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Additionally, exercise is 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. That is why it is so important to discuss your exercise plans with your doctor.

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 situation. Attention to rest and periods of relief from stress on the joints is also quite important.

On the Move

Fighting Osteoarthritis With Exercise

Exercising can keep you 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. These exercises, for instance, can be performed with weights or with exercise bands. These are inexpensive and can add resistance, increasing the effectiveness of the exercise.

Aerobic Activities: get your heart pumping and 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 above all, ask about the exercises you should avoid.

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. 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 everyone. 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.

Understanding 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. And most importantly, 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 down. Try activities that are moderate or vigorous intensity and avoid those that twist or “pound” your joints too much.

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

Examples of Moderate & Vigorous Intensity Aerobic Activities:




Brisk Walking Jogging / Running
Bicycling Singles Tennis
Swimming Swimming
Mowing the grass, heavy yard work Conditioning Machines
For example: stair climbers, elliptical, lateral elliptical, stationary bike.
Doubles Tennis Sports.

For example: soccer, basketball, football, racquetball.

Social Dancing Aerobic Dance or Spinning Classes.
Conditioning Machines

For example: stair climbers, elliptical, stationary bike.

Tai Chi, yoga

For example: softball, baseball, volleyball.

Strength Activities

Muscle strengthening activities. 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 pressure off the joints.

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. For instance, exercises that work the 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 body weight as resistance. Try push-ups or sit ups.
»  Heavy gardening, try digging or 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. If you are worried about falling, ask your doctor about adding balance exercises to your activity plan. Balance activities can be part of your aerobic or strength activities.

Balance improvement activities include, for example :

» 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, do a stretch workout once a week or more. Because many people with arthritis have joint stiffness and daily tasks can be difficult. Performing daily flexibility exercises for your upper  and lower joints will help you maintain your range of motion. Maintaining range of motion can help you prevent stiffness.

Be sure to find exercises that target these muscles:

  • joints of your upper body include your neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers
  • joints of your lower body include your lower back, hips, knees, ankles and toes

Understanding Arthritis, Conclusion

Stay active and be sure to visit Arthritis.org for more information. They will explain more about:

  • the definition of arthritis
  • how to detect the early signs of Arthritis
  • how to test for Arthritis.

Arthritis.org will also provide information about treatment options for different types of Arthritis. Most of all, if you think you have Arthritis, be sure to talk to 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 Health.gov:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

Related Articles to help you Understand Arthritis :

Share this article with your friends and loved ones who are suffering from arthritis. And thank you for taking time out of your busy day to visit us. As always, we wish 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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