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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 health experts say you can improve your health and fitness through exercise without damaging your joints. Just be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program.

Q. Why is exercise good if you have arthritis?

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

Q. What happens 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. This includes even those weak and damaged from arthritis. If you don’t exercise, your muscles become smaller and weaker. Your bones become more brittle and likely to fracture. Exercise helps keep your joints as flexible as possible. This allows you to continue your daily tasks by yourself as much as possible.

Q. What exercises should I do?

A. The program that’s best for you depends on the type of arthritis you have. It also depends on which joints are affected, and how severe your arthritis is. Your healthcare provider, physical therapist, or rehabilitation specialist can help decide the best exercise program for you. Talk with your healthcare provider before starting an exercise program. People with arthritis often benefit from range-of-motion, strengthening, and endurance exercises:

  • Range-of-motion exercises. These reduce stiffness and help keep your joints flexible. Controlled stretching promotes a normal range of motion. This is how far your joints can be moved in certain directions.

  • Strengthening exercises. These help maintain or increase muscle strength.

  • Endurance exercises. These exercises strengthen your heart. They give you more energy so you can exercise or be physically active longer without tiring as quickly. Walking, exercising in water, and riding a stationary bike are some of the best exercises for people with arthritis.

Note: If you haven’t been exercising regularly or you have pain, stiffness, or weakness that interrupts your daily activities, get your healthcare provider’s approval. Then start your exercise program with range-of-motion and strengthening exercises only.

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