Arthritis is common in older adults, who have spent many years putting wear and tear on their bones and joints. Even if treated, arthritis can still be a hindrance for those looking to maintain or begin a regular fitness routine.
Arthritis is a term that covers more than 100 conditions involving swelling of the joints. Osteoarthritis, the form of arthritis most common in older adults, occurs when the cartilage in joints begins to break down. This causes pain, swelling, and stiffness with movement, especially after periods of sitting still.
Since the joints most commonly affected by arthritis—the feet, knees, hips, and spine—are also the joints responsible for running, jumping, dancing, and walking, people with arthritis might think it’s best to avoid being physically active. However, this is not always the case!
Why exercising with arthritis is important
Discomfort during movement can make arthritis sufferers reluctant to exercise, but depending on your doctor’s recommendation for your specific condition, a good balance of exercise and rest can actually help reduce your pain. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), your goal should be to stay as active as possible without making your symptoms worse. Sometimes health care providers will advise patients to avoid exercising during acute flare-ups or on bad days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to avoid exercise entirely.
Staying active can reduce arthritis pain by strengthening the muscles around your bones and joints. Stronger muscles around your joints can help bear some of the weight of your movement, which in turn reduces pain. Exercise also improves your overall health, helping control your weight and improving your balance. It can also improve your flexibility and range of motion, which relieves stiffness and makes moving with arthritis more comfortable. So should you exercise with arthritis? While any changes to your fitness routine should always be discussed with your doctor—especially if you have a health condition—in many cases the answer is yes!
Learn more about exercises to avoid if you’re over 60.
3 best exercises for adults with arthritis
Staying physically fit helps keep your joints strong and limber even as you age. If you have arthritis, you may need to modify the intensity, duration or frequency of your workout depending on your doctor’s advice. However, there are plenty of exercises that are easy to do as well as gentle on your bones and joints. These include:
1. Swimming and water aerobics
Swimming is one of the best exercises for seniors with arthritis. When you splash in the pool, around 90 per cent of your body weight is supported by the water. This means you can do lots of fun aerobic activities, like aqua jogging, water aerobics, or even synchronized swimming without the pain.
Many water exercises for arthritis are done in pools with slightly warmer water, which will feel better on your joints. Since water has more resistance than air, it’s ideal for building muscle strength and cardiovascular health. If you have knees with arthritis, swimming might be your best choice—with no pressure on the joints, many people with joint pain report feeling weightless and free.
Whether you swim laps, do aerobics, or just take a splash with your friends, exercising with arthritis is more fun when you get wet!
2. Exercise Classes
According to the CDC, one of the safest ways for someone with arthritis to start a new exercise routine is by taking a class. Be sure to check with your doctor first, but classes taught by qualified instructors can guide you into movements and modifications appropriate for those with arthritis. If you’re concerned about too much movement causing you pain, try a low-impact class such as Gentle Yoga for Beginners, Pilates Flow, or Zumba Gold.
These types of classes can guide you safely into motions and movements that are gentle on joints, led by an instructor familiar with modifications should you be experiencing a flare-up.
Learn more about our online wellness classes for seniors
3. Chair classes
Can you exercise with arthritis in the knee? In many cases the answer is yes! Chair classes are perfectly suited for those with arthritis in the knees. Since you’re sitting down, you can work your upper body without putting pressure on your knees. Boogie with Chair Yoga & Dance, tone up with a Zumba Gold Seated class, or zen out with some seated Chair Yoga. Like swimming, this seated exercise takes the pressure off of your joints, leaving you free to have pain-free fun.
Tips for exercising with arthritis
There are a few ways to ensure your exercise routine is pain-free:
- Start slowly and make sure you’re not pushing your body harder than it can go. Follow your doctor’s advice on how intense your workouts should be, and when it’s time to ease off.
- Be gentle on your joints when you walk, hike, or jog by keeping a low incline on your treadmill, wearing well-cushioned shoes, and walking on smooth grass or dirt (instead of bumpy terrain or concrete) when you can.
- Keep joints warm. Heat can soothe your joints, and applying a warm compress or taking a hot shower before a workout can help limber up stiff muscles. You could also swim in a warm pool or end your day with a soothing bath. Keep in mind that heat may not be ideal during a bad flare up—check with your doctor.
Enjoy movement throughout your day! In addition to your home or gym workout, try to stay active in your everyday life with household tasks like gardening, cleaning, raking leaves, walking with friends, or getting busy in the kitchen. Even with arthritis, there is plenty you can do pain-free!