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What are the best exercises for people who have severe joint pain?

Walking

This is a low-impact activity that’s a good choice if you have the physical capability.

The benefit is that you can exercise almost anywhere: The mall, the local school track, or a parking lot.

“It has appeal. It’s easy to do,” Dr. Fine says. “It’s an option you can do during all four seasons no matter where you live, and there are very few conditions where walking is not feasible.”

Swimming

“Swimming is great for people who have osteoarthritis, who have musculoskeletal issues or any joint disease where any kind of impact may exacerbate an underlying problem,” says Dr. Fine, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Utah School of Medicine, in Salt Lake City.

The reason: Swimming (and other forms of water exercise) defies gravity, so there aren’t any unpleasant and potentially damaging jolts to the joints.

Yoga

The breathing component of yoga might be just as helpful to ease chronic pain as the movement and stretching.

But Steven Calvino, MD, an assistant professor of anesthesiology and rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City, recommends against doing certain poses.

“Yoga can involve very extreme ranges of motion involving the spine and other joints so there is a risk of injury,” he says. “You want to do whatever is a comfortable range of motion within your abilities. Don’t push it unless you’re in very good condition.”

Still, Dr. Fine notes, “even someone who is bedridden could simply start with certain breathing exercises and focusing on different body parts, integrating this into either active or passive movements (such as contracting a muscle).”