Exercise and Arthritis

Why Should People with Arthritis Exercise?

People who are physically active are healthier and live longer than people who are inactive. This is true for everyone but especially for people with arthritis. In addition to the general benefits of regular exercise, certain kinds of exercise have shown important benefits for people with arthritis.

Arthritis is one of the most common reasons people give for limiting physical activity. Being inactive may increase arthritis problems. Many people who have arthritis are less fit, weaker and less flexible and have more pain than necessary due to the complications of inactivity. Pain, stiffness, fatigue and the fear of doing harm can make it difficult to be physically active with arthritis. For the person with arthritis, however, an appropriate exercise program is very important.

Elderly woman performing exercises using small weights

What Kinds of Exercise Are Helpful and Safe?


Research shows that many people with arthritis can safely participate in appropriate, regular exercise programs and achieve better aerobic fitness. Low impact exercises, such as swimming and water aerobics, may be particularly well-tolerated by people with arthritis. Improved strength, endurance and flexibility, and better ability to walk or perform daily tasks are all benefits of exercise.

There are three major types of exercise. Each plays a role in maintaining or improving health and fitness, and reducing arthritis-related disability and pain.

  • Flexibility or stretching: Gentle, low intensity exercises performed daily to maintain or improve range of motion are the foundation of most therapeutic exercise programs and also are important in recreational or fitness exercise. Adequate flexibility improves function and reduces the chance for injuries.
  • Muscle conditioning (strength and endurance): These are more vigorous than flexibility exercises and are usually done every other day. They are designed to ask the muscle to work a bit harder than usual. This extra workload may come from lifting the weight of the arm, leg or trunk against gravity, or using weights, elastic bands or weight machines for more resistance. Muscles adapt to the new demands by getting stronger and/or becoming capable of working longer.
  • Cardiorespiratory or aerobic conditioning: These include activities that use the large muscles of the body in rhythmic and repetitive movements. Aerobic exercise improves heart, lung and muscle function. It is also the kind of exercise that has benefits for weight control, mood and general health. Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, swimming, aerobic dance or aquatics, bicycling or exercising on equipment such as treadmills or rowing machines. Daily activities such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, sweeping the driveway, playing golf or walking the dog are also aerobic exercise.
Middle-aged patient gripping knees from pain