If you’re struggling with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, engaging in joint-friendly exercises can help with your pain, mood, function and quality of life. Arthritis-friendly exercises are low-impact, meaning they reduce your risk of injury and don’t put as much stress on your body as high-impact exercise.
By being physically active, you may be able to delay disability related to arthritis. Exercise can also help manage other conditions too like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
Beyond their physical benefits, exercising also has psychological benefits It:
- Decreases anxiety.
- Improves mood.
- Relaxes you.
- Promotes a state of well-being.
Below are five recommended types of exercises for individuals suffering from arthritis.
1. Aerobic Exercises
Aerobics or also called cardiorespiratory conditioning includes exercises that use your body’s large muscles in a rhythmic and repetitive manner. These exercises improve your lung, heart and muscle function. With arthritis, exercises of this type offer benefits for mood, sleep, weight control and general health.
Aerobic exercises help improve your overall fitness. They help control your weight, improve your cardiovascular health and provide you with more energy and stamina. There are two types of aerobic exercises: low-impact aerobics and high-impact aerobics. It’s best to start off with low-impact.
Examples of aerobic exercises that are easier on your joints and are low impact include:
- Using an elliptical machine
Recommendations from the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) for aerobic exercises are currently to perform moderate intensity exercises for around 150 minutes a week — spread out over a few days. For greater scheduling of your exercise sessions, you can accumulate the exercises in a few 10-minute intervals over the course of a week or a day. By doing this, you still receive the same health benefits, but can do your exercises within your own personal tolerance level if you’re suffering with greater fatigue and pain.
The most effective and safest aerobic exertion level is moderate intensity. This means you should be able to stay comfortable and talk normally while exercising without becoming overheated or short of breath.
2. Muscle-Strengthening Exercises
Muscle-strengthening exercises help protect and support your joints while still building strong muscles. A good example of a strengthening exercise is weight training which helps you increase and maintains your muscle strength. However, you don’t want to exercise the same group of muscles two days in a row. Be sure you allow a day to rest between your exercise sessions and if your joints are swollen or painful, take an extra day.
Examples of muscle-strengthening exercises include:
- Body weight exercises
- Resistance bands
- Weight machines
- Exercise ball
- Free weights
Muscle-strengthening exercises are designed to work your muscles a little harder. As you strengthen the muscles, they provide you with better joint support and help decrease stress and loading through your painful joint. Stronger muscles not only contribute to better functioning, but also decrease inactivity-related bone loss or bone loss through certain medicines like corticosteroids or inflammatory arthritis.
The American College of Rheumatology recommends you do a set of eight to 10 exercises two to three times a week for your body’s major muscle groups. In most cases, individuals would complete each exercise for around 8 to 10 repetitions. It’s 10 to 15 fewer resistance repetitions for older adults. However, you still need to challenge your muscles with enough intensity without increasing your joint pain.
Some good examples of resistance would be elastic bands, hand-held weights or using a weight machine to pull or push against resistance. When done at quicker speeds, water can even provide a good resistance. Slowly increase your form or amount of resistance to continue strengthening your muscles.
3. Range of Motion Exercises
Range of motion exercises can relieve stiff joints and help you move them more efficiently through their entire range of motion. You may perform these exercises daily.
Examples of range-of-motion exercises include:
- Forward arm reach
- Head turns
- Knee lift
- Back pat and rub
- Elbow bend and turn
Range-of-motion exercises help improve or maintain joint and surrounding muscle flexibility which in turn helps reduce your risk of injury and improves posture and function.
You will want to perform range-of-motion exercises five to 10 times each day. Those with RA might find these exercises reduce their stiff joints the next morning when done the evening before. They also help thin the fluid in your joints and get them moving.
4. Balance Exercises / Body Awareness Exercises
Body awareness exercises are less recognized, but still extremely important to help improve your balance, posture, relaxation and coordination and proprioception (joint position sense).
Examples of balance or body awareness exercises where you’ll be exercising body parts like the wrist, feet and hand include:
- Tai chi
- Qi Gong
- Martial arts
Body awareness or balance exercises help to center your body and improve your breathing which releases tension and relieves stress.
5. Flexibility Exercises
Along with balance, strength and endurance, you don’t have to do flexibility exercises every day. However, mixing it up will help keep your body healthy and fit while making your exercise routine fun and interesting.
Examples of flexibility exercises include:
- Stretches for sports
- Forward bends
No matter how small, any type of movement activity can help. Even household chores like raking leaves, mowing the lawn, vacuuming or walking the dog count.
Like viruses, your arthritis may become bothersome or severe. If this is the case, you will want to see a rheumatologist. They are educated in rheumotology, specialize in arthritis and can prescribe you with an exercise routine to reduce your risk of injury while helping you improve your overall function.