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Answers to Your Questions About Arthritis and Exercise

If you have arthritis, you may think you shouldn’t exercise because it could make your condition worse.

But doctors and physical therapists insist that people with arthritis can improve their health and fitness through exercise, without damaging their joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

Q. Why is exercise beneficial if you have arthritis?

A. Exercise can help you keep your joints moving, keep the muscles around your joints strong, keep your bone and cartilage tissue strong and healthy, and improve your ability to perform daily activities. Along with medicine and rest, regular exercise of your joints  —  when they aren't inflamed  — can help keep them in working order so you can continue participating in your daily activities. It also may help prevent further joint damage.

Q. What could happen if I don’t exercise?

A. If you don’t exercise, your joints can become even more stiff and painful. If you have arthritis, it’s important to keep your muscles as strong as possible. The stronger the muscles and tissue around your joints, the better they’ll be able to support and protect your joints, even those weak and damaged from arthritis. If you don’t exercise, your muscles become smaller and weaker and your bones become more brittle and prone to fracture. Exercise helps keep your joints as flexible as possible, allowing you to continue your daily tasks as independently as possible.

Q. What exercises should I do?

A. The program that’s best for you depends on the type of arthritis you have, which joints are affected, and how severe your arthritis is. Your doctor, physical therapist, or rehabilitation specialist can help determine the best exercise program for you. People with arthritis often benefit from range-of-motion, strengthening, and endurance exercises.

Range-of-motion exercises reduce stiffness and help keep your joints flexible. Controlled stretching promotes a normal range of motion, or the amount your joints can be moved in certain directions. Strengthening exercises help maintain or increase muscle strength. Endurance exercises strengthen your heart and give you more stamina so you can exercise or be physically active longer without tiring as quickly. Walking, exercising in water, and riding a stationary bicycle are among the most beneficial endurance exercises for people with arthritis.

If you haven’t been exercising regularly or you have pain, stiffness, or weakness that interrupts your daily activities, get your doctor’s approval and start your exercise program with flexibility and strengthening exercises only.