Understanding Arthritis

Understanding Arthritis and the Benefits of Physical Activity

It is true, the best medicine for arthritis is physical activity. Regular physical activity has countless benefits. And if you have been diagnosed with arthritis, it is important to understanding the disease.

So, to start, know the benefits of regular physical activity. Next, follow up by that knowledge to help you stay active for a long time. You see, being inactive is not an option for those of us with arthritis. In other words, use the disease as a motivator, not an excuse.

Participating in physical activity improves pain, function, mood, and quality of life without making symptoms worse. Most importantly, being physically active can delay the onset of disability.

And another benefit of being active is that it will help you manage other chronic conditions. Diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity can be less severe with the right level of activity. Safe, enjoyable, physical activity is possible for most adults with arthritis. If you have arthritis you have many exercise options. You can exercise in the comfort of your home, with others in a group, or join a gym with a friend. And if you join one of the many programs available in your community, you have an opportunity to meet people with similar interests.

Watch this Arthritis Pain Reliever video to learn more. The video focuses on the benefits of physical activity and the type and amount of exercise that can help. Check with your doctor to see if your exercise plan is safe for your form of arthritis.

Understanding Arthritis – 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 does not 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 a few factors such as:

  • which joints are involved?
  • how stable are those joints?
  • has a joint replacement already been done?

These are just a few reasons 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 especially important.

On the Move

Fighting Osteoarthritis with Exercise

Exercise cannot be overrated as it can:

  • keep you strong and limber.
  • improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • extend your joints’ range of motion.
  • 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. They will be able to recommend the exercises that are best for you. Knowing how much and how long you should be exercising is key. And be sure to 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

Understanding Arthritis and 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 no activity.
  • 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 and muscle-strengthening physical activity are beneficial.
  • Health benefits occur for everyone. Children and adolescents, young and older adults. And those in every studied racial and ethnic group – everyone.
  • 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 the Adult Guidelines from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. See which guide meets your personal health goals and abilities. Remember, start slowly and pay attention to how your body tolerates activity. And most importantly, find what works best for you.

Types of Exercise:

These exercise types offer options for staying fit:

Endurance / Aerobic
Flexibility / Stretching

Endurance / Aerobic Activities

Aerobic activity is also called “cardio,” endurance, or conditioning exercise. It is any activity that makes your heart beat faster and you breathe a little harder. Your heart should beat faster than when you are sitting, standing or lying down. Try activities that are moderate or vigorous intensity. Avoid those that twist or “pound” your joints too much.

While intense activities that are hard on the joints should be avoided, there are some people that can do vigorous activities. They may even be able to tolerate some activities that are hard on the joints such as basketball or tennis. So, the idea is to choose the right activities for you.

Also note that you do not have to do exercises you do not enjoy. There are a variety of activities that you can do to meet the Guidelines. So, choose activities that are not harmful for your type of arthritis. And remember, if you choose an activity you enjoy you will be more likely to do them regularly.

Examples of Moderate & Vigorous Intensity Aerobic Activities:




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

Examples: soccer, basketball, football, racquetball.

Social Dancing. Aerobic Dance or Spinning Classes.
Conditioning Machines.

Examples: stair climbers, elliptical, stationary bike.

Tai Chi, yoga.

Examples: softball, baseball, volleyball.

Strength Activities

Muscle strengthening activities. For example, do activities that strengthen your muscles twice a week. Muscle strengthening activities are important because strong muscles takes pressure off the joints.

You can do muscle strengthening exercises in your home, the gym, or a community center. Do exercises that work the major muscles. Find exercises that work your legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms. Try to do at least one set of 8 – 12 repetitions (reps) for each muscle group. If you cannot do 8 – 12, do what you can, keep track of the # and gradually increase it.

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 routine. Balance activities can be part of your aerobic or strength activities.

Balance improvement activities include these examples:

  • 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 at least once a week. Due to joint stiffness, daily tasks can be difficult for people with arthritis. Performing daily flexibility exercises for your upper and lower joints will help you maintain your range of motion. And maintaining range of motion can help you prevent stiffness.

Find exercises that target your joints:

  • Upper body including neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and fingers.
  • Lower body including lower back, hips, knees, ankles and toes.

Improve your understanding of Arthritis

Remember to stay active and 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 provide information about treatment options for different types of Arthritis. 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 your Understanding of Arthritis:

Share this article with your friends and loved ones who are suffering from arthritis. They will thank you for it.

Thank you for spending time with us. Wishing you the best of health!

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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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