Updated 19 January 2017

Three kinds of exercise that can improve arthritis

Even small amounts of exercise throughout the day can improve arthritis pain and ease the associated discomfort.

Exercising regularly throughout the day can help ease arthritis pain, especially for those experiencing pain during movement

It might seem counterintuitive to exercise if you have arthritis and experience pain during movement, but the experts all agree that even small amounts of exercise throughout the day can improve arthritis pain and ease the associated discomfort.

Improved overall health

The key is to keep moving, the more you move the easier it will become over time. Start out conservatively with 10 minutes of light movement three times a day and build on that until you can manage 30 minutes in one go per day. Regular movement will not only keep the joints more mobile, but it will also strengthen the muscles.

Read: Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

In the long-term, the benefits of regular exercise will result in improved overall health and will go a long way to ensuring you remain independent and easily mobile as you get older. Before doing any kind of exercise, it’s advisable to get the all-clear from your doctor.

Then start out slowly with 10 minutes a day. If that feels manageable and you experience no sharp pains or swelling following your exercise, you should be able to continue that way for at least a week. As you feel able, gradually increase the time by a few minutes a day.

Listen to your body and if you feel any pain that is your body’s signal to stop and rest.

Read: Exercise and physical therapy improve arthritis symptoms

The three types of exercise you should aim to do include:

- Strength exercises

- Aerobic exercise

- Movement exercises

Strength exercises can be anything from bodyweight movements such as squats, to weight-bearing exercises with dumbbells or light barbells. Not only will strength exercises build muscle strength, but they can also improve bone density. If possible you should consider enlisting the help of a qualified trainer to assist you with an effective weight-training programme.

Read: 5 smart moves for happy joints

Aerobic exercises include anything which elevates the heart rate and gets the blood pumping. Light aerobic exercise will strengthen the heart and lungs and increase your overall fitness. If you are overweight, then regular aerobic/ cardiovascular exercise can also help shed those extra kilograms and keep you in shape.

For many people with arthritis, light aerobic exercise is the best place to begin to build stamina and can include low-impact exercises such as walking to cycling, swimming and some cardio equipment, such as the elliptical or rowing machine.

Movement exercises refers to anything which mimics daily living activities and encourages you to move in patterns which the body was designed to do, so the joints are all moving gently and throughout their full range of motion.

This will in turn improve your mobility and flexibility.  Common movement exercises include yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and some forms of low-impact dancing such as ballroom dancing.

Whichever form of exercise you choose to do, the aim is to move well, move often and move smart. Never push yourself to the point of pain, but don’t be afraid to push outside your comfort zone.

Read more: 

7 things that could be damaging your joints 

Can eating a healthy diet improve your arthritis symptoms 

Exercise to ward off aches and pains 

Sources: Arthritis Research UKRheumatology


Ask the Expert

Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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