Fighting arthritis? Exercise tips for all ability levels

When it comes to fighting arthritis, there’s no arguing with the axiom “move it or lose it.” Movement and physical activity have been proven effective in relieving arthritis pain and, in some cases, delaying the onset of symptoms. But if you’ve been recently diagnosed with arthritis, or have been battling the disorder without much success, you may be unsure just what, or how much, physical activity will help you.

One in five American adults has arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Yet only 16 percent of those with arthritis strongly agree that they are confident they can manage their pain, according to research by the Ad Council. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it can make the simplest activities difficult.

“Arthritis is common, costly, disabling and often thought to be a reality of the aging process that cannot be changed,” says Dr. Patience White, vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation. “However, the limiting effects of osteoarthritis can be minimized with an action plan that includes physical activity.”

Regular exercise offers two important benefits for those with osteoarthritis. It helps reduce the risk of developing other health problems, and helps manage the disease. No matter your ability level, you can engage in meaningful, beneficial activity to help fight arthritis pain and symptoms.

You should always discuss your abilities and needs with your health care provider before starting any exercise regimen. In addition, the Arthritis Foundation offers some physical activity tips for people of all mobility levels:

Low mobility

If you’ve been sedentary, starting out gently is essential. Talk to your doctor about what types of activities will be appropriate for your mobility level. He or she may advise you to begin with simple, low-impact exercises, such as walking or water aerobics.

Don’t overlook opportunities to work low-intensity exercise into your daily routine. Activities such as sweeping, mopping, vacuuming and washing windows are great ways to incorporate beneficial movement into your day. Take the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator when you’re shopping at the mall, and park at the far end of the lot and enjoy the stroll to the door when you go grocery shopping.

Gentle stretching is essential for all ability levels, and definitely manageable for those with lesser mobility. Stretching helps keep joints and muscles limber. In addition to simple aerobic activity, stretching exercises such as tai chi or yoga can help fight arthritis pain.

Moderate mobility

The Arthritis Foundation recommends at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week. You should do at least 10 minutes at a time and spread your activity throughout the week. Those with moderate levels of mobility should be able to achieve this goal, provided they choose activities appropriate for their overall health and fitness level.

Moderate intensity physical activity can include sports like badminton, bowling and golf. Walking faster than 3 mph or while holding weights also qualifies as moderate activity. You may opt to incorporate in your exercise regimen both fun activities, such as dancing or cycling, with practical ones like carrying firewood, doing yard work or washing and waxing the car.

High mobility

If you exercised regularly prior to your diagnosis you may have better mobility, and could benefit from increasing your activity level. Aim for five hours of moderate-intensity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity every week.

Incorporating a mix of different activities will not only help keep you moving, but can enhance your enjoyment of your exercise time. Consider including in your routine exercise like jogging, swimming or cross-country skiing and higher-impact sports such as basketball, tennis or volleyball.

You can learn more about osteoarthritis at