Physical Activity and Exercise

Improving Arthritis Through Physical Activity and Exercise

Physical activity through bicycling
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Regular exercise is beneficial. Who doesn't know that, right? For arthritis patients, exercise can reduce pain and improve joint function. In spite of knowing that, more than one-third of arthritis patients get no exercise. Some believe it's tough enough to just do usual daily activities -- so a structured exercise regimen is unnecessary and over the top.

For more details on physical activity and exercise, read this excerpt from UpToDate -- a trusted electronic reference used by many physicians and patients looking for in-depth and well-explained medical information.

Then read on so you will have full understanding of physical activity and exercise.

Physical Activity and Exercise: Details from UpToDate

"Exercise is known to have benefits for people with arthritis. However, many people with arthritis do not exercise, often because of joint or muscle pain, weakness, fatigue, or joint swelling. This can lead to loss of joint motion, stiffness, and muscle weakness and tightness. These problems can worsen fatigue and cause joints to become unstable. However, exercise can decrease pain and enhance quality of life. Exercise is most beneficial if it is done on a regular basis. Most people can find a way to exercise without increasing their symptoms.

Some people are not interested in a formal exercise program but are able to perform daily activities such as light housework, shopping, gardening, clearing walks and driveways, caring for a child or grandchild, caring for an older person, leisure walking, or exercising in a pool. There are health benefits (largely cardiovascular) from these activities."

Physical Activity and Arthritis - Do It Your Way

"Physical activity is any form of exercise or movement of the body that uses energy," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Exercise is a form of physical activity that is "planned, structured, repetitive, and performed with the goal of improving health or fitness." At least 2 hours and 30 minutes of weekly exercise is recommended.

Regular physical activity helps people with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions affecting the joints. Regular, low-impact physical activity can improve pain management, function, and quality of life.

Exercise and Arthritis - Where Should You Start?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, "The important thing to remember is to start [exercise] slow and make it fun. It is always good to start with flexibility exercises, which are basically stretching exercises that will improve your range of motion and help you perform daily activities. Once you feel comfortable you can move on to weight training and endurance exercises such as bicycling. You may be reluctant to exercise because you are in such pain. If this is the case you may want to start with a water exercise program. In the water your body's buoyancy reduces stress on your hips, knees, and spine."

Starting slow, setting your own pace, and keeping expectations realistic will help you successfully engage in regular exercise. There is also one more essential bit of advice: Before starting any type of exercise program, talk to your doctor.

Your doctor may have specific recommendations based on your condition or physical limitations. A consultation with a physical therapist may be suggested so you can be sure your approach to regular exercise is appropriate.

The Bottom Line

Although all exercise is physical activity, not all physical activity is technically considered to be exercise. For arthritis patients, however, any type of physical activity is better than none. If you are unable to do high-intensity exercise, you should not be discouraged from other types of physical activity. Your goal should be to work at the level of physical activity that is appropriate for you and that you can build on -- under your doctor's supervision.

Want to Learn More?

See UpToDate's topic, "Patient Information: Arthritis and Exercise" for additional in-depth medical information on physical activity and exercise.


Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The Department of Health and Human Services. October 2008.

Gecht-Silver M, "Patient information: Arthritis and Exercise". UpToDate. Accessed 11/29/09.

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