Exercise to Improve Your Arthritis Symptoms

Submitted by Tracy Hatfield Yoda, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDE on August 19, 2019

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Keep moving!

If you suffer from arthritis, rest is actually counterproductive. Exercise can help you improve your health and fitness without hurting your joints.

A woman with joint pain in her wrist

There’s a common misconception that exercise will aggravate your pain and stiffness, but that's not the case. Lack of exercise actually can make your joints even more uncomfortable and inflexible. That's because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is critical to maintaining support for your bones. Skipping exercise can weaken those supporting muscles, creating more pressure on your joints.

Exercise can also deliver other life-enhancing benefits, including increased energy and balance, stronger bones, weight control, improved sleep and better quality of life.

There are three types of exercise that can help manage arthritis:

1. Strength training:

Using circuit machines at a fitness facility, free weights at home or even your own body weight can help strengthen your major muscle groups and therefore add more support to those arthritic joints. You want to aim for two-to-three days per week, with one day of rest between working the same muscle groups. Examples include chest presses, pushups, leg presses and rows.

2. Aerobic exercise:

This type of exercise can help control weight, which can cut down on the impact and overall wear and tear of your weight-bearing arthritic joints. Examples include walking, bicycling or swimming.

3. Stretching or range-of-motion exercises:

This is a great place to start if you are new to exercise, in a lot of pain or are nervous about how your body will react to exercise. These are gentle movements that help the joint move through its full range of motion. Some examples are yoga, Tai Chi, stretch-focused classes, or simple daily exercises like raising your arms above your head or rolling shoulders forward and backward.

Starting an exercise program

When starting an exercise program, it is important to remember that  you need to incrementally increase duration and intensity. For example, start out walking five-to-10 minutes and slowly build up to 30 minutes per day. If most of your arthritis is in your lower body, try lower impact or stretching options, like Tai Chi or yoga class instead of walking.

Always ask your physician before beginning a program. A certified trainer can work with you to create an exercise plan that fits your needs, whether an in-home or gym workout. A gym that is tailored for older adults, such as the Lifestyle Center, can offer a sense of community while also providing support.

As a trainer, I like to tell my clients this bit of wisdom: if you have arthritis or not, remember that any movement is better than no movement!

Tracy Hatfield Yoda, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDE, has more than 25 years experience in the nutrition field and fitness industry. She specializes in diabetes and weight management. She obtained her master’s degree in nutrition and physical activity from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. and her bachelor’s degree in nutrition and kinesiology from Norfolk State University in Norfolk. Tracy is a Certified Diabetes Educator and is a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. She created and runs the My Healthy Weigh weight management program for The Lifestyle Health and Fitness Center. She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and The American Association of Diabetes Educators. Tracy is passionate about helping people to live healthier lives through nutrition and exercise.