How to exercise when you have arthritis

If you have arthritis, you might have been told to exercise. But what do you do when you’re in so much pain that exercising doesn’t feel like an option?

We all know that exercise is good for us, and it’s also been shown to alleviate arthritic symptoms. That’s why keeping active is usually the top recommendation for people living with this painful condition.

The truth is, living with arthritis can be a daily struggle. When your knees crack and ache when you move, or you get a shooting pain in your hip every time you stand up, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind!

But exercise does help. The key is to ease in gently, set a routine and stick with it.

When you start doing more intense workouts or move from a mostly sedentary lifestyle to a more active one, it’s all too easy to give up the next day because your muscles feel sore. But exercising regularly strengthens the muscles supporting your joints and can slow down your condition.

How to exercise the right way

The good news is, you don’t need to head to the gym for an hour every day to improve your arthritis. Here are three top tips to make exercise an enjoyable, routine part of your day — not something you end up regretting.

1. Start slow

You might have been told that you should exercise at least 150 minutes a week over three to five days to improve your strength and flexibility and reduce joint pain. While it’s true that you’ll experience the biggest benefits by doing this, it’s not always practical. The best thing you can do is start slow and pay attention to how you feel.

If all you can manage is five minutes of light stretching, that’s better than not exercising at all. You’ll also find it much easier to commit to exercising over the long term if you break it into small, manageable chunks. Then, little by little, increase how long you’re exercising for.

Pick low-impact exercises and activities you enjoy

Low-impact activities such as walking, dancing or bicycling are easy on the joints and will get your heart pumping. If exercise feels like a chore, consider doing it with a friend. Going to a dance or yoga class or playing a round of golf gives you the perfect excuse to have a catch-up, and you’ll likely have fun too.

Yoga is a great low-impact exercise for people with arthritis.

Slow down or stop when you need to

Arthritis impacts everyone differently. Some days, you might feel stiffer than usual, so you’ll want to modify your activity.

This might mean taking it easy or switching up your exercise entirely. If your joints feel tight and strained, consider swapping your daily walk for a swim.

There may also be times when you start exercising and feel sudden pain. Don’t try to push through it! Instead, stop immediately and reduce how much or how often you exercise over the next few days until your pain improves.

You could also speak to your GP or a private orthopaedic consultant about getting a prescription for pain relief or working out what’s right for your body.

Exercise is one of the simplest and most effective treatments for arthritis, but you must do it safely. Consistency is the key to experiencing the long-term benefits of exercise, so be gentle, take your time and try to enjoy it!

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