If you have arthritis, talk to your health care provider about the benefits of physical activity. Regular exercise is an important part of good overall health and can improve function, mobility, pain control, and quality of life for many people with arthritis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults with arthritis should follow either the active adult guidelines or the active older adult guidelines—depending on other health factors, personal abilities, and goals.

Most people with arthritis can benefit from moderate aerobic activity (low-impact—avoid twisting or "pounding" the joints), muscle strengthening, and flexibility exercises to increase range of motion. In addition, people who are at increased risk for falls often can benefit from balance exercises.

Exercise Guidelines for Active Adults

In general, adults with arthritis who

  • are younger than 65,
  • have normal function and no activity restrictions, and
  • do not have other chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer
should follow these recommendations for physical activity:

Aerobic activity—at least

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate intensity exercise per week OR
  • 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous exercise per week OR
  • an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise per week; at least 10 minutes per session; spread out through the week AND

Muscle strengthening activity—at least 2 days per week

Exercise Guidelines for Older Active Adults

In general, adults with arthritis who

  • are over the age of 65,
  • have poor function and some activity restrictions, or
  • have another chronic health condition
should follow these recommendations for physical activity:

Aerobic activity—at least

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate intensity exercise per week OR
  • 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous exercise per week OR
  • an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise per week; at least 10 minutes per session; spread out through the week AND

Muscle strengthening activity—at least 2 days per week AND

Activity that promotes balance—at least 3 days per week

What Is Aerobic Activity?

According to the CDC, aerobic exercise—also called "cardio," conditioning, or endurance exercise—is any activity that makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe harder than when you’re sedentary.

Choose activities you enjoy. Aerobic activities include:

Moderate Intensity

  • Brisk walking
  • Bicycling
  • Gentle swimming
  • Yard work (e.g., mowing, raking, gardening)
  • Dancing
  • Fitness machines (treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, climber)—slower pace
  • Doubles tennis
  • Tai chi, yoga
  • Skating, skiing
  • Sports (e.g., baseball, volleyball)

Vigorous Intensity

  • Running, jogging
  • Singles tennis
  • Competitive swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Aerobics or spinning classes
  • Sports (e.g., soccer, basketball, racquetball)
  • Fitness machines (treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, climber)—faster pace

What Is Muscle Strengthening?

Activities that strengthen all major muscle groups—legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, soldiers, arms—are important for people who have arthritis because strong muscles can help take pressure off of the joints.

Muscle strengthening exercises can be done at home, in the gym or fitness center, at a community center, etc. Strength training exercises include the following:

  • Weight lifting (e.g., machines, free weights)
  • Resistance bands
  • Body weight as resistance (push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups)
  • Heaving gardening—digging, shoveling, pruning

What Are Balance Exercises?

People with arthritis or other chronic health problems—as well as older adults—often are at increased risk for falls. Balance activities can help reduce this risk.

Activities that can help improve balance include:

  • Standing on one foot
  • Walking backwards
  • Side stepping, heel walking, toe walking
  • Group balance classes

What Are Flexibility Exercises?

Joint stiffness can make daily tasks difficult for many people with arthritis. Gentle stretching exercises can help improve flexibility and increase range of motion. Focus on upper joints—neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists, fingers—and lower joints—lower back, hips, knees, ankles, toes.

Flexibility exercises should be performed often—and can be done every day. They involve gently moving your joints through their full range of motion and include ankle, shoulder, wrist, and neck rolls.

Talk to your health care provider before beginning an exercise program. In addition to the guidelines above, physical therapy and/or occupational therapy also may be recommended.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 25 Jun 2014

Last Modified: 01 Sep 2015