Long gone are the days when health care providers told people with arthritis to “rest their joints.” In fact, physical activity can reduce pain and improve function, mobility, mood, and quality of life for most adults with many types of arthritis including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and lupus. Physical activity can also help people with arthritis manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Most people with arthritis can safely participate in a self-directed physical activity program or join one of many proven programs available in communities across the country. Some people may benefit from physical or occupational therapy.
What are the benefits of physical activity for adults with arthritis?
Regular physical activity is just as important for people with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions as it is for all children and adults. Scientific studies have shown that participation in moderate-intensity, low-impact physical activity improves pain, function, mood, and quality of life without worsening symptoms or disease severity. Being physically active can also delay the onset of disability if you have arthritis. But people with arthritis may have a difficult time being physically active because of symptoms (e.g., pain, stiffness), their lack of confidence in knowing how much and what to do, and unclear expectations of when they will see benefits. Both aerobic and muscle strengthening activities are proven to work well, and both are recommended for people with arthritis.
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
- A National Public Health Agenda for Osteoarthritis
- American College of Rheumatology treatment guidelines
- For a scientific summary on the health benefits of physical activity for adults with arthritis see Chapter G5 of the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Final Report
Physical activity guidelines for americans
Adults with arthritis should follow either the Active Adult or Active Older Adult Guidelines, whichever meets your personal health goals and matches your abilities. People with arthritis should also include daily flexibility exercises to maintain proper joint range of motion and do balance exercises if they are at risk of falling.
What type of activities count?
Aerobic activities. Aerobic activity is also called “cardio,” endurance, or conditioning exercise. It is any activity that makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe a little harder than when you are sitting, standing or lying. You want to do activity that is moderate or vigorous intensity and that does not twist or “pound” your joints too much. Some people with arthritis can do vigorous activities such as running and can even tolerate some activities that are harder on the joints like basketball or tennis. You should choose the activities that are right for you and that are enjoyable. Remember, each person is different, but there are a wide variety of activities that you can do to meet the guidelines.
Examples of moderate and vigorous intensity aerobic activities
Muscle strengthening activities. You should do activities that strengthen your muscles at least 2 days per week in addition to your aerobic activities. Muscle strengthening activities are especially important for people with arthritis because having strong muscles takes some of the pressure off the joints.
You can do muscle strengthening exercises in your home, at a gym, or at a community center. You should do exercises that work all the major muscle groups of the body (e.g., legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms). You should do at least 1 set of 8–12 repetitions for each muscle group. There are many ways you can do muscle strengthening activities:
- lifting weights using machines, dumbbells, or weight cuffs
- working with resistance bands
- using your own bodyweight as resistance (e.g. push-ups, sit ups)
- heavy gardening (e.g., digging, shoveling)
- some group exercise classes
- muscle strengthening exercise videos
Balance activities. Many older adults and some adults with arthritis and other chronic diseases may be prone to falling. If you are worried about falling or are at risk of falling, you should include activities that improve balance at least 3 days per week as part of your activity plan. Balance activities can be part of your aerobic or your muscle strengthening activities. Examples of activities that improve balance include the following:
- tai chi
- backward walking, side stepping, heel and toe walking
- standing on 1 foot
- some group exercise classes