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How should I exercise if I have osteoarthritis (OA)?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you're among the one in eight Americans or one in ten Canadians coping with the stiff, achy joints of osteoarthritis, it's time to get moving. Gently, of course.

Exercising -- even just strolling around the house -- may be the last thing you feel like doing if your back, knees or hips hurt. You may also be afraid that it'll make things worse inside your joints, where this common-as-colds problem erodes cushy cartilage between your bones, letting them scrape against each other. If worries like these are keeping you on the couch, you're far from alone. Half of all women and nearly as many men with arthritic knees stay still most of the time.

It seems counterintuitive, but movement is great arthritis medicine. It eases pain by keeping your joints flexible (not exercising makes them stiffer) and strengthening leg muscles that act as shock absorbers for your knee joints. Movement also lubricates cartilage, which keeps it healthier. And it helps lower the risk for heart attacks and strokes, too, which are often high in people with arthritis, in part because they don't move.

Best get-up-and-go plan? Talk with your doctor. Walking and water exercise are almost always great options; just check to see whether there are moves you should avoid and whether knee supports would help. The Arthritis Foundation offers pool classes, at-home exercise DVDs and more.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.