Exercise with arthritis: Why everyone needs to do it and where to start 33



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The multiple benefits exercise brings to the body and mind are common knowledge these days. The bottom line is clear: everyone needs to exercise to achieve and sustain good health. No argument.

People with arthritis can be mistakenly think exercise can worsen their problems. Well, this could not be further from the truth. It’s even MORE important to keep moving. Otherwise joints can freeze, muscles weaken and pain increases.

But it can be quite challenging for someone with arthritis to find the right exercise and the perfect balance between activity and rest. Both doing too little and too much can have a negative impact. It’s a bit like walking on a tightrope!

So it’s really important to find the right type of exercise, as well as the right intensity and frequency. This way, you won’t hurt your joints but will reap the plentiful benefits of getting active. Building up a little sweat is actually a good thing.


Is it safe?

Research shows that people with arthritis can participate safely in appropriate, regular exercise. This goes for autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis as well as osteoarthritis.

A research paper by the UK Department of Rheumatology and Bangor University concluded “The importance for the inclusion of exercise training in the treatment of RA is now clear and proven”. A US study found that “exercise programs appear to be effective in improving functional physical fitness and perceived ability to perform ADL (activities of daily living) measures in older adults with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis”. Another study also mentions “significant improvements in depression and anxiety”.

The main benefits are reduction of bone loss and improvement in joint motion – the holy grail for people with arthritis. Reduction in small-joint damage, enhanced coordination and better balance also comes from exercise. Not to mention keeping a check on your body mass – with arthritis you really want to avoid any extra weight.

Types of exercise

The type of exercise will depend on both your individual capacity and interest. Think about exercises that can help you in three important areas:

  • Strength (building muscle to provide joint stability)
  • Cardiovascular fitness (to improve the condition of your heart, lungs and circulation)
  • Mobility (to improve or maintain a joint’s range of motion)

The following exercise types are often considered beneficial for people living with arthritis:

  • Swimming
  • Water exercise classes (hydrotherapy)
  • Tai chi
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Equipment pilates
  • Cycling (stationary)


It can be hard for someone already in pain to find the motivation to move. But just think of how good you feel after a session of exercise – those serotonins will help you love it! Watch your fitness level improve over time and be proud of what you have achieved. It’s all about doing as best as you can – you don’t have to run marathons. On bad days, just a short walk around the block can already be helpful. Mix up a few different types of exercise – they all bring different benefits and this can help the boredom.


Let’s not do the ‘I don’t have time for exercise’. We’re all busy people these days. Exercise is crucial for good health so you HAVE to make it a priority in your life. Block out 45 minutes here and there in your diary and ask others to support you in your quest for fitness (loved ones, co-workers, friends). Even better, join a regular class or find a fitness buddy so you can plan time for exercise together.

Where to start

If you are unsure about which exercise is right for you, it’s important to check with your doctor or physiotherapist.


Tell us what types of exercise you are doing to stay fit and share your exercise ‘hacks’ to fit it into your day in the comments below.

Sandra Witzel

Sandra Witzel is a certified Health Coach who has lived with arthritis for over a decade. She is a member of the International Association of Health Coaches and works to help people with arthritis through Wellvess.com, an 8-week online program packed with meal plans, recipes, latest research on supplements, exercise tips and a forum to connect with others.

  1. Thanks for the info. . This helps to know what to do. ..i have osteoarthritis. …as i am only 5ft tall i have to find a pool that isnt to deep so i can do some walking in the pool….as all you can see is my head…still looking…

    5 REPLY
    • Never been in an Olympic size pool that didn’t have a shallow end! I think most aquatherapy pools are shallow too

    • Where do you live Rhonda im only 5ft my friend wants me to to go with.her to prince of wales Randwick with her will give it a try

    • In Townsville…I have been in the Kokoda pool and its not shallow enough.. i will look at a couple of others…the physio said it was a great way for the body to excercise…..thank you all for your comments…ideas are welcome….

    • Hi Rhonda, are there any private hospitals in Townsville? I found they sometimes have shallow hydrotherapy pools and offer classes. Just an idea 🙂

  2. i am riddled with arthritis so very hard to find right exercises i wouldnt wish this disease on anyone

    1 REPLY
    • That’s tough Sharon. Have you tried hydrotherapy? Sometimes just walking in a warm water pool can be a relieve. It takes the weight of the joints and I always found it very beneficial during times my arthritis was very bad. 🙂

  3. They do say you are never too old or too weak to fo pilates!It was invented to help injured servicemen in WWI, although prefer yoga

    1 REPLY
    • Agree 100% Meg! 🙂 I love Pilates. Even on days when I am not feeling well, they always find a workaround to get my body to stretch and release in a pain-free way.

  4. Love walking with dog, up and down hills for real workout every day. Just discovered I can skip rope again, so will try to better my time each day. Finding it low impact if I don’t overdo it. Few aches and pains nowadays.

  5. Found hrdro therapy expensive so joined local gym at a discount. Use the pool for gentle exercise and spa. Also trying relaxation classes. Something might work.

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