Even the healthiest people can find it hard to stick with an exercise regimen — and if you suffer from the joint pain of arthritis, moving your body may be the last thing you want to think about. But regular exercise not only helps maintain joint function, it also relieves stiffness and reduces pain and fatigue.
If you have arthritis, you want to be sure your exercise routine has these goals in mind:
- A better range of motion (improved joint mobility and flexibility). To increase your range of motion, move a joint as far as it can go and then try to push a little farther. These exercises can be done any time, even when your joints are painful or swollen, as long as you do them gently.
- Stronger muscles (through resistance training). Fancy equipment isn't needed. You can use your own body weight as resistance to build muscle. For example, this simple exercise can help ease the strain on your knees by strengthening your thigh muscles: Sit in a chair. Now lean forward and stand up by using only your thigh muscles (use your arms for balance only). Stand a moment, then sit back down, using only your thigh muscles.
- Better endurance. Aerobic exercise — such as walking, swimming, and bicycling — strengthens your heart and lungs and thereby increases endurance and overall health. Stick to activities that don't jar your joints, and avoid high-impact activities such as jogging. If you're having a flare-up of symptoms, wait until it subsides before doing endurance exercises.
- Better balance. There are simple ways to work on balance. For example, stand with your weight on both feet. Then try lifting one foot while you balance on the other foot for 5 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Over time, work your way up to 30 seconds on each foot. Yoga and tai chi are also good for balance.
Arthritis doesn't have to keep you from enjoying life. To learn the latest on new treatments and practical strategies for living well with arthritis, buy Living Well with Osteoarthritis, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.