How much exercise should I do?

Keeping active

Physical Activity Guidelines

Exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve the symptoms of your condition. It’s recommended that all adults in the UK are active every day, even if they don’t have a health condition.

Research shows that exercise is one of the best things you can do to improve the symptoms of arthritis and related conditions.

Each week, adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of physical activity that makes them slightly short of breath – for example, you should be able to talk but not sing a song.

This is known as moderate intensity activity and includes things such as brisk walking, cycling or swimming. There are lots of things that fit into this category, and it’s important to find the right activity for you.

This doesn’t mean you have to do it all in one go, and lots of people break this down into five 30-minute sessions a week or do more even shorter sessions. Even doing a little will help, so just do as much as you feel you can.

If you’re doing more vigorous activity, such as running, playing a sport such as tennis, or climbing stairs, you only need to do 75 minutes each week. Vigorous intensity activity is something that you can’t really speak while doing and makes you very short of breath.

Remember, a lot of things you do in your daily life probably count towards this total, such as:

  • walking to the shops
  • gardening
  • walking upstairs
  • doing the housework.

Moving more

It’s also important to break up any periods of time we spend being sedentary – such as by sitting or not moving much – with some light activity.

Modern life has meant that many people are more sedentary now than they used to be, and many people spend more than 7 hours sitting or lying down each day, which can be bad for our health. Some examples of sedentary behaviour include sitting down at a computer screen, watching television, or using a car for short journeys.

Think about times when you are sedentary for long periods and see if there are things you could do to reduce this – for example, walking short journeys instead of driving, standing to take a phone call, using a desk that allows you to sit or stand or setting reminders to stand and stretch during the day.

Building strength

Adults should also do activities that help build or maintain muscle strength on two days a week. If you’re not able to do this, just do as much as you can.

It’s a good idea to focus on the major muscles in the body – the legs, hips, back, tummy, chest, shoulders and arms.

But you don’t need weights or a gym membership to work on your strength – yoga, doing the gardening, carrying shopping bags and doing some types of housework all help improve your strength.

Improve balance

It’s also important to do exercises that help improve your balance on two days a week – and this is particularly important for people over 65. Dancing, tai chi, and balance exercises are good examples.

It’s important to work on balance as this reduces the risk of falls.

The government website has information on the different physical activity guidelines for other groups, including children and pregnant women. Find more information here: Physical activity guidelines.

How will I know if I have overdone it?

Sometimes when we start a new activity or exercise, we can push ourselves too much. It’s important to start off gently and build up our activity levels over time.

It’s normal to feel mild discomfort whilst exercising and some soreness or in your muscles after exercise, especially if you’re just getting started. But if you find you have significantly more or severe pain while you’re exercising or after you’ve exercised, you should stop and talk to a healthcare professional about it.

If you do feel like you have overdone it after exercising, or if you have any joints that are hot and swollen, you could try using an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a damp tea towel, or something similar, to help. Put this on the affected joint for around 15-20 minutes at a time.

If you have pain – without any warmth or swelling – after you have exercised, you could use a heat pack or ice pack on the affected joint. Some people find using a mixture of both alternately can help. Even when using a heat pack, it’s still a good idea to cover the skin with a towel, and don’t use the pack for more than 20 minutes at a time.

If you feel better the next day, start again but slowly and gently increase the amount you do. But if you find your pain is lasting longer than a short time after exercise, or if you have any sudden onset of pain during exercise, then you may have an injury.

If the symptoms of pain, heat and swelling continue for than more than a few days you should contact your GP or healthcare team.

Many exercise-related injuries can be treated at home but if things don’t improve over time, you may need to visit a GP, minor injuries unit or NHS walk-in centre, where they will be able to give you treatment and advice.

Remember that exercise injuries are easily avoided by warming up and cooling down properly, using safe equipment, wearing the right clothing and footwear, and using the right techniques.