We can all agree on the benefits of exercise. Not only does it keep us fit, but it also releases feel-good endorphins, boosts the white blood cell count to stave off illness and strengthens the joints. It’s not surprising, then, that exercise sits at the top of the prescription list for those living with painful arthritis.
While taking painkillers can help, it’s not viable for the long term, especially with arthritis being a chronic condition that only gets worse over time. The best that most can hope for is that treatment helps slow the progression.
You have other options for arthritis in the knee, such as a private knee replacement, but it’s not a permanent fix. A specialist might also not offer you this treatment if you’re younger, even if your arthritis causes you pain and impacts your mobility.
This brings us back to exercise. But what if your arthritis is so severe that you can’t even walk to the shops and back without getting shooting pains and feeling like your body’s about to give way?
Top Exercises for Arthritis
Fortunately, you can do exercises that minimise the stress on your joints — and many are also enjoyable! What’s more, you don’t need to invest in a gym membership or costly equipment, or sweat buckets for arthritis exercise to be effective.
As a low-impact exercise, yoga is perfect for people with arthritis. Arthritis often limits mobility and can make your joints feel tense and stiff, and this is where yoga can prove beneficial. Gently moving from one pose to the next helps increase flexibility and muscle strength. If your symptoms are aggravated by poor posture, such as putting uneven weight on your joints, yoga can correct this.
It’s also a practice grounded in spirituality, so it can help you feel calm, centred and mindful.
Another big advantage of yoga is that it’s easily adaptable for people with arthritis — you could even do yoga in a seated position to prevent putting strain on your knees or shoulders. While attending a class gives you the benefit of working with an instructor to make sure you’re maintaining the right form, you can follow online videos from the comfort of your home, so you can easily see if it’s right for you.
You might see dancing as a fun pastime rather than a form of exercise, but it’s a great way to get your heart pumping and have fun at the same time. Unless you’re busting out your breakdancing moves, dancing won’t put a lot of stress on your joints, so it’s an easy, cheap and effective way to exercise. You don’t have to go to a dance class or out with a friend either — just put on your favourite music and dance like nobody’s watching.
When you exercise, it’s normal for delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS) to set in and cause your muscles to ache the next day. But when you also have arthritis, the pain can be near unbearable, making traditional exercises such as running or cycling difficult.
Swimming is an excellent alternative because not only does it stimulate blood circulation and reduce muscle stiffness, but the warmth and buoyancy of the water provide ample support for your joints.
Tai chi is a graceful Chinese exercise characterised by slow, sweeping movements. While you might not immediately jump to tai chi as a method of working up a sweat, this is exactly why it’s effective for people with arthritis.
There’s some evidence that the gentle movements of tai chi can improve mobility in the hips, knees and ankles. Its emphasis on focused intention and deep breathing can also reduce stress, improve balance, and enhance your overall well-being.
Other Tips for Exercising with Arthritis
Now you know some of the best exercises for arthritis, how can you ensure you don’t push yourself too hard?
The most important thing to remember is to take it slow. Your doctor may well tell you that you should exercise for an hour a few times a week, and you’ll experience the benefits faster if you do, but nobody knows your body better than you.
If you start feeling excruciating pain while exercising, don’t wince and push through it. Instead, stop and then reduce the intensity or how long you’re exercising until you can do it comfortably.
If you’re mostly sedentary, getting used to exercising regularly can be tough. A little bit of light exercise every day is more effective than an hour-long high-intensity workout you do once and then never want to repeat.
Ultimately, when it comes to exercising with arthritis, consistency is key. You’re far more likely to stick to your new exercise routine if it’s something you enjoy — and you might even find yourself looking forward to it.