Walking. There’s a reason it’s America’s favorite workout: “It’s safe for almost everyone, even those with severe arthritis. The only equipment it requires is a pair of comfortable, supportive shoes; and it involves zero training," says Dr. Wright.
Where and when you walk are also important considerations. If walking a hilly route is too strenuous stick with level ground. Try an indoor mall or gym with a flat track so you can walk safely and comfortably. Explore large churches, YMCAs or community centers in your area that may have indoor tracks good for walking in any weather.
To get the most from your walking workout, consider the Arthritis Foundation’s Walk With Ease program. It helps you develop a walking plan suited for your needs, helps you stay motivated and teaches you to exercise safely. You can do it in a group with a trained instructor, or on your own with guidance from a book that provides instructions, checklists, progress charts and other helpful information. Because it’s an evidence-based program, it’s safe and effective for people with arthritis.
Water workouts. “Swimming or water aerobics are especially great for people who are heavier or who have advanced arthritis,” says C. Thomas Vangsness Jr., MD, chief of sports medicine at the Los Angeles County University & Southern California Medical Center. “If you can find a heated pool, all the better – warm water almost instantly relieves painful joints."
Stationary or recumbent cycling. “Both recumbent and stationary bikes allow you to get your heart rate up, but they put very little pressure on the hip and knee joints,” says Dr. Vangsness. A recumbent bike is a safer choice if your balance is iffy or if you’re overweight, new to exercise or exercising post-knee surgery. An upright bike allows you to spin faster and is best reserved for an injury-free, experienced exerciser.
Yoga and tai chi. “Tai chi and yoga improve flexibility and balance – two areas which individuals with arthritis often struggle with – and both are gentle on joints, too,” says Stiskal. Check your local community and fitness centers for yoga and tai chi classes, or you can exercise on your own time with guidance from a Tai Chi DVD based on Sun Style Tai Chi available from the Arthritis Foundation.
Resistance training. Resistance training is an absolute must for people with arthritis, says Stiskal. Contrary to popular belief, weights are an excellent choice: “The key to using them safely is to have proper form and to lift the correct amount of weight for your strength level. If you’re not sure, ask a physical therapist or personal trainer to teach you,” she advises. Rubber resistance bands and strengthening equipment at the gym are good ways to build lean muscle mass. “Strong muscles absorb the shock that would otherwise affect your joints. It’s like the difference between walking barefoot on a cold floor and wearing warm, padded slippers,” says Stiskal.