For Arthritis, Exercise Can Improve Quality of Life

Medically reviewed in September 2021

When arthritis pain sets in, getting up to work out may be the last thing you want to do. But regularly opting for a walk around the block instead of an afternoon on the couch could gain you up to 20 pain-free days per year, according to research. 

Using data from a nationwide study, a team of researchers examined how exercise affected quality of life among more than 4700 people suffering with or at risk for osteoarthritis (the “wear and tear” type) of the knee. The researchers measured the participants’ activity levels for one week and then divided the people into three groups: those who met the national guidelines of 150 minutes of exercise per week, those who were somewhat active and those who were largely inactive. The researchers also collected quality-of-life measurements at the beginning of the study, and then again two years later.

The researchers found that people who got the recommended amount of physical activity added about 20 days of good health over the course of a year, compared to those who were not active at all. And people who were only somewhat active had about 10 more healthy days.

Increasing physical activity by any amount can boost quality of life, add years of health to your life, and cut healthcare costs for patients with osteoarthritis, the researchers concluded.

Exercising with arthritis
So, what does that mean for you? It’s time to get moving.

Your body may try to fight you on it, but keeping your joints in motion is actually one of the best things you can do to manage arthritis pain. Just remember a few things before lacing up your sneakers:

  • Be consistent. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the benefits of working out, but do shoot for moderate exercise 5 days a week. Regular exercise makes your bones stronger and more resilient, keeps your joints mobile and releases endorphins to help manage pain.
  • Don’t skip strength training. Arthritis sufferers, especially women, can benefit from modest resistance training. This could be as simple as holding 2-3 lb. weights as you walk. Strength training builds strong muscles that help to protect inflamed joints.
  • Be mindful of your limits. Arthritis pain affects everyone differently, so make sure you’re listening to your body. Never exercise to the point of pain, and if you begin to notice swelling in your joints, take it easy. And as always, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.

Best exercises for aching joints
While you may not be able to do stair climbers or crank out 100 squats every night, there are plenty of workout options available for you if you’re suffering from arthritis pain.  

  • Yoga. Yoga is one of the best low-impact workouts for people with arthritis, regardless of flexibility level. Never tried yoga before? This 30-minute beginner's flow is a great place to start.
  • Swimming. Few low-resistance workouts are better for arthritis pain than swimming, especially if you have hip or knee pain. The water helps to support your body weight, causing less strain and allowing for a fuller range of motion. Swimming is a great cardio and strength workout as well, helping to burn excess body fat and build up muscle around weak joints.
  • Walking. It’s effective, easy and essentially free! Try our 4-Week Walking Fitness Plan to help get you started.
  • Or try something new. Take up golf, dance classes, light gardening or even tai chi. All of these are great ways to increase your physical activity level and keep your joints in motion.

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