When you're not active, not only do your muscles get weaker, but you also gain weight. "For every pound you gain, it's the equivalent of four pounds across each knee," White says. Being just 10 pounds overweight puts about 40 extra pounds of stress on your knees with every step you take.
Our experts say a combination of strengthening and stretching exercises is ideal for keeping joints strong and limber. Studies find that lifting weights or using resistance bands not only improves muscle strength and function, but can also reduce OA pain. Flexibility exercises that move each joint through its entire range of motion can alleviate joint stiffness, Millar says.
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."