6 Steps to Getting Active With Arthritis

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Achy joints? It could be osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis, is a condition caused by wear and tear on the cartilage of your joints. This strong tissue usually cushions joints, but can wear down over time, causing joints to ache, and become stiff and painful. There’s no cure, but a variety of painkillers and treatments can help, as can losing weight if you have excess pounds.

Exercising with arthritis

While it may not be obvious, weight loss and exercise can help people with arthritis.

The more your body weighs, the more wear and tear on your joints. Exercise can help you lose weight, but it can also help in other ways.

Stretching and strengthening exercises—if done carefully—can improve joint mobility and lower pain intensity.

Here’s how to get started.

Talk to your doctor first

Why it helps: It’s wise for anyone to talk with their doctor before starting an exercise regime, but it is especially important if your joints are injured by arthritis and your fitness level is low from taking it easy to stay out of pain.

Ask about exercise time and weight limits, motivational support, and the appropriate after-exercise pain treatment.

Exercise regimeThink big, start small

Why it helps: Exercise will help improve your joints’ range of motion; strengthen the muscles around the joints, which protects them and improves function; and increase your aerobic fitness and help you lose weight, which reduces the stress on your joints.

So you should plan to address three exercise goals and types: flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health.

ExerciseJoin a group

Why it helps: Group participation is an important motivator for people who want to begin exercising, losing weight, and changing their habits.

Arthritis, like any chronic pain condition, can be an isolating disease, so finding support will not only help you achieve your fitness goals, but it will also help you tackle this disease.

Ask arthritis clinics, community centers, physical therapy clinics, and gyms to recommend group programs.

Join a groupConsider yoga

Why it helps: The emphasis on stretching, whole-body well-being, and group practice makes yoga especially relevant to some arthritis sufferers.

Although the scientific evidence of arthritis-specific benefits is limited (few studies have been done), the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center still recommends yoga to its patients.

Arthritis sufferersTake to the water

Why it helps: A 2007 Australian study, though small, found “significant” benefits from the low-impact, body-supporting medium of water.

Check with your local community center, YMCA, or a nearby pool for arthritis-focused facilities and sessions.

Body supporting medium of waterWarm up-literally

Why it helps: Mayo Clinic’s arthritis center advises a 20-minute joint-warming routine before you begin—warm towels, hot packs, etc.

Follow it with a postexercise ice-pack cooldown.

Go easy: Neither the heat nor the cold should be painful.

Warm up

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