Adding aerobic exercise to your routine helps control your weight. Losing just a few pounds if you're overweight can make a dramatic difference in your pain level. "If you lose 15 pounds or so, you can cut the pain in half," White says.
Low-impact exercises--such as walking and bicycle riding--are safest for people with osteoarthritis because they don't stress the joints. Borenstein says swimming in particular is an ideal OA exercise because the buoyancy of the water absorbs the impact that would normally fall on the knees and other joints. "It's good for those people who have more severe osteoarthritis, because it still allows them to use their joints but in an un-weighted position," he says.
Before starting each exercise routine, be sure to warm up first. This helps get your blood flowing and your muscles limber. Warming up correctly can help prevent joint stiffness and soreness the next day. After you're done exercising, cool down with a few light stretches to keep your joints flexible.
Take Exercise Slowly
Just because you can exercise with osteoarthritis doesn't mean you should throw yourself into a full-court basketball game or sprint around your local track. You may eventually be able to graduate to more intense exercises, but you need to ease slowly into your workout program. Borenstein tells his newly diagnosed patients to do one-tenth of the exercise they did before. "So if it was 10 miles it's one mile. If it was 10 pounds it's one pound," he says. "Then they can build from there and they'll know what their tolerance level should be."
Deresinski now walks or rides her bike instead of running. She still lifts weights, but they're much lighter than they were before she was diagnosed. "I started to do activity that was a little lower in impact but still allowed me to participate in exercise programs," she says. "You want to work gradually. You want to know what your body can handle, what it can't handle, what you need to modify, what you need to strengthen."
Before you do any type of OA exercise, check with your doctor to make sure exercise is safe for you. To ensure you're using the right form, check into programs that were designed specifically for people with osteoarthritis. You can usually find them at your local Y or community center. The Arthritis Foundation offers aquatics, tai chi, and other programs around the country.
Physical Therapy & OA Exercise
Also consider seeing a physical therapist to help you get started on a safe exercise program. "A physical therapist will know what exercises you should or shouldn't do," Millar says. Once you know how to do the exercises correctly, you’ll feel more comfortable doing them at home on your own.