Exercise and arthritis
Your joints are stiff, swollen and achy. Sometimes it hurts when you stand, get up from a chair or climb stairs. Won’t exercise just aggravate these symptoms and make you feel worse?
In fact, it’s just the opposite. The idea that you should rest your joints when you have arthritis is outdated. Today, it’s clear that movement is good medicine for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and many other types of rheumatic disease. There’s no reason not to be as physically active as your abilities and symptoms allow. Exercising at least 30 minutes on most days of the week is recommended.
You'll need to take certain steps to keep exercise safe for your joints such as talking to your doctor about what activities are right for you, modifying activity so that painful joints aren’t aggravated, easing into activities and learning to listen to your body for signs of over-doing it.
But with sensible precautions, being active has many benefits for people with arthritis. Regular physical activity can help to:
- Relieve pain and stiffness and increase energy — Studies show that moderate aerobic activity and strengthening exercises can reduce pain and morning stiffness. Exercise improves your balance, boosts your endurance and may also reduce inflammation.
- Protect bones and joints — Within a relatively short period of time, regular exercise can strengthen the muscles surrounding your joints. This helps stabilize weakened joints and increases flexibility. Stronger muscles may even help compensate for cartilage loss and can improve your range of motion. Over the long term, exercise can help slow bone loss that leads to osteoporosis — a condition that increases susceptibility to fractures.
- Control your weight — Combined with healthy food choices, regular exercise can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Keeping off extra weight has many health benefits, and it’s important for your joints.
- Reduce or delay disability — Regular exercise helps you gain strength and agility that can improve your ability to work and do everyday activities, such as carrying grocery bags and climbing stairs. Keeping up better function helps you maintain your independence and quality of life.
- Improve mood — People with arthritis are at higher risk of anxiety and depression. Getting regular physical activity can help reduce these mood disorders, relieve stress and improve your overall well-being.
This post is excerpted from Mayo Clinic Guide to Arthritis, a just-published book from Mayo Clinic Press.