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Yes, you can exercise with arthritis

A woman doing a standing yoga pose.

A well-rounded exercise program can help ease the pain and stiffness of arthritis—here’s what it involves.

It may seem counterintuitive that moving more can actually soothe sore joints. But staying active is actually a powerful medicine for arthritis. A well-rounded exercise program can help significantly reduce arthritis pain and improve your overall fitness and health.

But what's well-rounded? It's a program that includes three types of exercise: aerobic, strengthening and flexibility. Here's a look at each of those exercises—and the do's and don'ts for safe workouts from the Arthritis Foundation:

Aerobic exercise. These workouts get your heart pumping and help strengthen it. They decrease inflammation, too, which helps minimize arthritis symptoms. They can also boost your metabolism, better your mood and give you more energy.

Do's: Focus on joint-friendly exercises like walking, biking and swimming. Water exercises are also a good choice. (They don't involve swimming—you do them while standing in water that is about shoulder height.) The water's buoyancy takes pressure off your joints.

Don'ts: Do not attempt high-impact aerobics or running without an OK from your doctor.

Strengthening exercise. Besides building muscle, this makes your joints more stable and strengthens your bones.

Do's: Lift weights or use weight machines. You can also use resistance bands or tubing.

Don'ts: Don't jerk weights or overtrain by lifting too much weight or doing too many repetitions.

Flexibility exercise. This helps decrease daily stiffness. Plus, it can improve—or maintain—your range of motion. That's the ability to move your joints through their full span.

Do's: Stretch your whole body—do basic hamstring, shoulder, neck and back stretches. Yoga and tai chi also improve flexibility. But they're not a substitute for basic stretching.

Don'ts: Do not end a workout without stretching, and don't bounce when you stretch.

Get a green light—and go easy

Before you start any new exercise program, ask your doctor how it might affect your arthritis—and what specific safeguards you should keep in mind.

Ultimately, a good weekly goal for your workouts is at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity at a moderate intensity—which means you should still be able to talk (but not sing) while you exercise.

Also aim for strength-training workouts that involve all major muscle groups at least twice a week. Do stretching exercises at least three times a week.

Be sure to start slowly and build from there, gradually increasing the length and difficulty of your workouts.

As important: Always listen to your body. If you have moderate to severe joint pain when working out, stop immediately and let your doctor know. That pain may be a warning sign of inflammation in a joint or even joint damage that needs treatment.

Reviewed 7/27/2020

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