Benefits of Exercise for Osteoarthritis
Get exercise tips for arthritis and learn why physical activity is the best, non-drug treatment for improving pain and function in OA.
While you may worry that exercising with osteoarthritis (OA) could harm your joints and cause more pain, research shows that people can and should exercise when they have osteoarthritis. In fact, exercise is considered the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis.
What Exercises Work Best for Osteoarthritis?
Each of the following types of exercises plays a role in maintaining and improving the ability to move and function. Walking and aquatic exercises are particularly good for most people with osteoarthritis.
Exercises for Osteoarthritis
Range of motion or flexibility exercises
Range of motion refers to the ability to move your joints through the full motion they were designed to achieve. These exercises include gentle stretching and movements that take joints through their full span. Doing these exercises regularly can help maintain and improve the flexibility in the joints.
These exercises strengthen the heart and make the lungs more efficient. Aerobic exercise also reduces fatigue and builds stamina, while helping control weight by increasing the number of calories the body uses. Examples of this type of exercise includes walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming or using the elliptical machine.
These exercises help maintain and improve muscle strength. Strong muscles can support and protect joints that are affected by arthritis.
Free and easy on the joints, walking comes with a host of benefits. One major plus is that it improves circulation – and wards off heart disease, lowers blood pressure and, as an aerobic exercise, strengthens the heart. It also lowers the risk of fractures (by stopping or slowing down the loss of bone mass) and tones muscles that support joints.
Aquatic (water) exercises
These are particularly helpful for people just beginning to exercise as well as those who are overweight. Aquatic exercises do not involve swimming, rather they are performed while standing in about shoulder-height water. The water’s buoyancy helps relieve the pressure of your body’s weight on the affected joints (hips and knees in particular), while providing resistance for your muscles to get stronger. Regular aquatic exercise can help relieve pain and improve daily function in people with hip and knee OA.
Always follow the advice from your doctor or physical therapist. In general, range-of-motion exercises should be done every day.
The weekly recommendation for aerobic exercise is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity or an equivalent combination. This translates into taking a 30-minute swift walk or bike ride five times per week. You could also do some jogging, swimming, or biking that gets your heart pumping for 25 minutes three times per week or any combination of these based on your ability and preference.
“Exercise is good. But exercise intelligently,” says Bashir Zikria, MD, an assistant professor of sports medicine at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore. “Low-impact exercises, like walking, cycling or using an elliptical machine are smart choices,” says Dr. Zikria. “If you run, play basketball or do other high-impact activities, avoid hard surfaces and don’t do it every day.”
Create a Custom Exercise Plan
Multiple studies show that mild to moderate exercise is beneficial for people with arthritis. However, everyone’s circumstances are different, so discussing exercise with your doctor or physical therapist is important. Together with your health care team you can design an exercise plan that is best for you.
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