Skip to content

Osteoarthritis Health Center

Font Size

Exercise to Treat Arthritis

Why Should I Also Do Strengthening Exercises? continued...

Some people with arthritis avoid exercise because of joint pain. However, a group of exercises called "isometrics" will help strengthen muscles without bending painful joints. Isometrics involve no joint movement but rather strengthen muscle groups by using an alternating series of isolated muscle flexes and periods of relaxation.

Isotonics is another group of exercises that involve joint mobility. However, this group of exercises is more intensive, achieving strength development through increased repetitions or by introducing increasing weight resistance such as with with small dumbbells or stretch bands.

A physical therapist or fitness instructor (preferably one who has experience working with people with arthritis) can tell you how to safely and effectively perform isometric and isotonic exercises.

What Is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy, also called "aqua therapy" (water therapy), is a program of exercises performed in a large pool. Aqua therapy may be easier on joints because the buoyancy of water takes some of the weight off the painful joints while providing resistance training.

What Are Endurance Exercises?

The foundation of endurance training is aerobic exercise, which includes any activity that increases the heart rate for a prolonged period of time. Aerobic activity conditions the heart and lungs to:

  • Use oxygen to more efficiently supply the entire body with larger amounts of oxygen-rich blood
  • Build stronger muscles for endurance activity

When paired with a healthy diet, aerobic activity also is fundamental for controlling weight (which is important for people with arthritis since it reduces excess pressure on affected joints) and for improving overall general health.

At first, people with arthritis should perform about 15 to 20 minutes of aerobic activity at least three times a week, and then gradually build up to 30 minutes daily. The activity also should include at least five to 10 minutes of warm-up plus five to 10 minutes of cool-down.

Although peak benefits are achieved when an aerobic activity is performed continuously for at least 30 minutes, aerobic exercise can be spread out in smaller segments of time throughout the day to suit your comfort level, without overexerting yourself. Aerobic exercise should be performed at a comfortable, steady pace that allows you to talk normally and easily during the activity. Ask your therapist what intensity of exercise is appropriate for your fitness level.

During exercise, your heart's "training range," or target heart rate, should be closely monitored. To improve your body's aerobic condition, you should calculate your maximum heart rate -- 220 minus your age -- and exercise at a level of intensity between 60% and 80% of your maximum heart rate.

Examples of aerobic activities include walking, swimming, low-impact aerobic dance, skiing, and biking, and may even include such daily activities as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or playing golf. Walking is one of the easiest aerobic exercises to begin because it requires no special skills or equipment other than a good pair of supportive walking shoes, and it's less stressful on joints than running or jogging.

Biking is another good choice for people with arthritis, because it places less stress on knee, foot, and ankle joints. Swimming is also often recommended because there is minimal pressure on joints while in water.

Appropriate recreational exercise, including sports, can be helpful to most people with arthritis. These activities are best preceded by a program of range-of-motion and strength exercises to reduce the chance of injury.

Today on WebMD

elderly hands
Even with arthritis pain.
woman exercising
Here are 7 easy tips.
acupuncture needles in woman's back
How it helps arthritis, migraines, and dental pain.
chronic pain
Get personalized tips to reduce discomfort.
Keep Joints Healthy
Chronic Pain Healthcheck
close up of man with gut
man knee support
woman with cold compress
Man doing tai chi
hand gripping green rubber ball
person walking with assistance