Types of exercises
It’s important to do a mixture of exercises, including:
- Stretching exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Fitness exercises
- Balance exercises
Stretching exercises are sometimes known as range-of-movement or flexibility exercises. These involve bending and straightening your joints as much as is comfortable to keep them flexible and reduce the risk of any loss of mobility.
It’s easy to avoid bending and straightening your joints through their full range of movement during the day, particularly when you have pain. But not moving our joints fully can cause them to become more stiff and painful over time. They can be done as a warm-up before starting other exercises too.
A physiotherapist might be able to give you some specific stretching exercises. Other examples include yoga and tai chi. There are also some stretching exercises on our Exercises for healthy joints pages.
When doing stretching exercises, you should try to move your joints as far as you comfortably can, until you feel a stretch in the muscles around the joint. Try to keep the movement slow and controlled.
Strengthening exercises help to keep the muscles around your joint strong and secure. Having strong muscles helps keep joints stable and can reduce pain in the joints and the tissues around them.
Changes to our muscles can happen very quickly – you might notice that you feel weaker or wobbly even after a few days of rest if you’ve been unwell with a cold or flu.
To strengthen your muscles, you simply need to move against some form of resistance. Even things like standing up from a chair will mean you’re strengthening your leg muscles because you’re working against gravity.
Start strengthening exercises slowly and build up how much you do gently. Start with a low number of repetitions of different strengthening exercises and add to this over time. Your muscles should feel tired and like they have done some work after the exercises.
You should aim to do some strengthening exercises on at least two days a week.
If your joints are hot or swollen because of your condition, it’s sometimes a good idea to focus on stretching exercises and avoid strengthening exercises until they settle down.
Fitness exercises are important for everyone to stay healthy. They’re sometimes known as aerobic exercises. This kind of exercise includes things such as cycling, swimming, and doing exercise classes.
Doing fitness or aerobic exercises can help to improve the strength, balance and range of movement of your joints, the health of your heart and lungs, and improve your independence.
Any exercise that gets you breathing more quickly, or your heart beating faster helps to improve the way your heart and lungs work. Over time, your energy levels, mood and sleep can also improve.
It’s important to do exercises to improve your balance on two days a week, particularly as we get older. This will help reduce the risk of falls, which in turn reduces the risks of frailty and falls, which can have more complications as we age.
There are specific balance exercises that can help, but things like playing bowls, doing tai chi or dancing – either at classes or around your home – improve balance too. If practising your balance at home, make sure the area around you is clear of anything that could trip you up.
Different activities to try
There are many different types of activity you can try, that will help to improve or maintain your general health and fitness. Try not to let the fact that there may not be other people with arthritis doing these exercises, as many of these activities can be easily adapted to suit you.
If you’re working with a personal trainer or fitness instructor, it’s a good idea to tell them about your condition and any concerns you have before you start. They should be able to suggest changes to help you exercise safely and get the most benefit from an activity.
Swimming and water-based exercises
Swimming works the whole body but doesn’t involve puts less weight through your joints – so it’s a great way to work your muscles without putting strain on your joints if they’re painful.
Most pools cater for people with different needs and abilities, so if you’re new to swimming or are concerned about getting in and out of the pool, speak to someone at your local pool as they may be able to help.
Being active in water isn’t just limited to swimming. It’s possible to do some exercises for your condition, with the support of the water helping reduce pain in your joints, and even walking in the pool will work your body. There are also water-based aerobics classes, which involve doing exercises as part of a fitness class, in water around waist height.
Good Boost uses technology to create water or land-based exercise programmes for people with arthritis or related conditions. Visit the Good Boost site to find out more, search for nearby classes or download the app.
Just Swim has information for people at all stages of swimming, including people who want to learn. Their website also has the Poolfinder to find more information on local pools, swimming clubs and accessibility. Find out more at https://www.swimming.org/justswim/.
Walking briskly, even if only for a short distance or time, can help improve your lung and heart health, as well as benefiting your bones, joints and muscles. You can also try adding in periods of speed walking or walking uphill to challenge yourself more.
Remember that any walking you do usually counts as physical activity, but you can try going on routes around your local area, such as walking around the park.
The NHS has created the Active 10 app which can help you get started with walking. Find out more: Get active - Better Health - NHS.
Paths for All aims to increase the number of people walking for health every day in Scotland. You can find out more at https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/.
Ramblers has information on local walking groups and routes in your local area. Find out more at https://www.ramblers.org.uk/.
Running or jogging
Running or jogging can sometimes be challenging on your joints, but it also has great benefits for your fitness and can reduce depression and anxiety. Try doing some strengthening exercises for your legs before you start.
The NHS has created the Couch to 5K app which can help you get started with jogging and running. Find out more: Get active - Better Health - NHS.
Cycling is a good exercise to work your lower body and is low impact so shouldn’t cause more pain to your joints. It also gets you breathing quicker and your heart beating faster, so is good for your heart and lungs.
To increase the intensity of your cycling, or to meet other people in a group class, you could try spinning. This a low-impact fitness class done on exercise bikes. Your local gym may offer classes. You can also use an exercise bike in a gym or get one for your home.
Cycling UK has information on routes, local groups, and a journey planner, as well as information for beginners. Find out more at: https://www.cyclinguk.org/.
Some people find that doing physical activity in a group can help them to stay motivated. It can help you to meet other people with a similar level of fitness to you and making friends in your class can help make exercise more enjoyable.
Fitness classes include aerobics and dance classes, but these don’t always have to be high impact. Step aerobics and dance classes like Zumba can be suitable for different levels of fitness.
The NHS has created some exercise videos which you can access for free on their website. They cover a range of different exercises, and there are some that have been created with people with arthritis or joint pain in mind, including Pilates. Find out more at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/.
Yoga includes posture and breathing exercises that can help with your general fitness and range of movement, as well as improving your mood. It’s also been shown to help with back pain.
It involves slow, gentle movements which can be easier for people with joint pain, and will help improve your muscle strength and balance. It’s a good idea to find an instructor who can help you adjust some movements for your condition, especially if you have had any joint replacements in the past.
The British Wheel of Yoga website has information to help you find yoga classes near you, as well as related events. Find out more: The British Wheel of Yoga.
Tai chi involves slow, controlled movements and helps with your range of movement. It’s a great way for people with arthritis or joint pain to improve their muscle strength and balance too, without putting too much strain on the joints.
Pilates focuses on balancing the body and improving your posture and can improve how you feel. The balance activities in Pilates, and tai chi above, are particularly helpful as we get older as they can reduce the risk of falls.
If you’re just starting out with exercise, and you struggle with walking or have pain in your legs, it can be a good idea to start out with some gentle seated exercises.
When you’re doing the exercises, make sure to:
- Choose a chair of the right height, so you can sit with your knees bent at a right angle and your feet flat on the floor.
- Avoid a chair with arms, as this could restrict your movement during the exercises.
- Choose a stable chair that doesn’t have wheels.
The NHS has some chair-based exercises on its website. Find out more: Sitting exercises - NHS.
Gyms have lots of different equipment you can use – including exercise bikes and treadmills. So, if you’re worried about going outside to do these activities, you can practise cycling, walking or jogging indoors.
You’ll usually have an induction with a fitness instructor or personal trainer when you join a gym. If you have any concerns, you can ask them for advice on training with your condition.
There are national bodies promoting sport and activity for people with disabilities. Their websites have lots of useful information, including search functions to find inclusive gyms. Find out more below:
- Activity Alliance (England): www.activityalliance.org.uk/
- Disability Sport NI: https://www.dsni.co.uk/
- Disability Sport Wales: https://www.disabilitysportwales.com/
- Scottish Disability Sport: https://www.scottishdisabilitysport.com/
The Great Outdoor Gym Company offers free fitness spaces in local parks. Find out more on their website: https://www.tgogc.com/.