Good cardiovascular exercises for people with knee and hip osteoarthritis include walking, swimming, and cycling. “Really, it’s anything that you can tolerate that gets your heart rate going,” says Haaz.
If you can take a brisk walk, it can keep you mobile and help to reduce pain. If walking for exercise is too painful, try a recumbent bicycle. “These bikes extend the angle of the joint so that the knee and hip aren’t flexing so much with each rotation, so that it might cause less strain and pain,” Haaz says.
If even the recumbent bike is too much, the swimming pool is your friend. “It feels great on the joints!” Haaz says. “You must find a pool that is heated, because cold water is very painful for arthritic joints. The only downside to swimming is that it doesn’t give you the delay of bone loss that is a key benefit of weight-bearing exercise.”
You might think that lifting weights would be bad for arthritis, but some studies show that the opposite is true. By strengthening the muscles around the joints, strength training helps to take some of the load off the arthritic joints and relieves pain.
“The job of connective tissue is to hold things together, so you’re losing stability in the joint, part of what’s causing the pain. When you strengthen the muscles surrounding and supporting the joint, you can relieve some of the symptoms,” says Haaz.
Recent studies have found that most people with osteoarthritis of the knee who took part in strength and resistance training report a decrease in pain and disability and an increase in mobility.
Strength training also lessens the risk of falls, which can be a major risk for people with knee and hip osteoarthritis. A recent study found that a group of women ages 75 to 80 showed a 47% to 57% reduction in fall-risk scores with simple strength and balance training.