Exercising with arthritis: the benefits

Whether you have arthritis or not, staying active improves long-term health by helping you feel more energetic and maintain a healthy weight, blood cholesterol level and blood pressure. It also keeps your bones and muscles strong to prevent osteoporosis (a condition that causes bones to become brittle) and fractures. And it’s not just about your physical wellbeing; exercise is good for your mind, too, as your body releases its “feel-good” hormones. But if you have arthritis, there are even more benefits to exercise:

  • Arthritis can be extremely debilitating, causing chronic pain and disabling you from leading a full life. Exercise prompts your body to produce more of the natural chemicals that help to damp down pain, giving you a higher natural pain tolerance so that you are better able to go about your daily activities.
  • Many people with arthritis suffer from joint stiffness. Exercise can help that, too. Doing exercise and stretches relieves stiffness and maintains the joint’s optimal range of motion. Any stiffness you feel is actually due to inactivity, which causes your tendons, muscles and ligaments to quickly shorten and tense up.
  • Muscle weakness is also common in people with arthritis. Exercise increases the strength and flexibility of the muscles around your joints, which relieves some of the pressure on the joint itself and eases pain and inflammation.
  • The fluid that keeps a joint lubricated is often found to be lacking in arthritic joints, which again causes pain and discomfort when that joint is moved. Staying active keeps your joints “well oiled” as it boosts the production of fluid inside your joints, acting as a buffer against injury. The movement of this fluid also brings much-needed oxygen and essential nutrients to the joint’s surface, keeping it healthy and, in an arthritic joint, helping to prevent further deterioration.
  • When you’re in pain, it can be easy to fall into the trap of inactivity, which may lead to weight gain. This, in turn, then puts more stress on weight-bearing joints, such as your hips, knees and ankles, increasing pain and inflammation. Keeping fit helps keep your weight under control to protect those joints from further stress and you from more pain.
  • When your joints are inflamed from arthritis, and moving causes you pain, you may find you’re thrown off-balance and your posture is askew as your body tries to move in a new way to prevent the pain. This loss of balance can lead to falls, putting your joints at risk of injury and causing yet more pain. As well as keeping your bones and muscles strong, exercise improves your balance to prevent those injury-inducing falls.
  • It can be difficult to stay upbeat and positive when you have arthritis, considering the pain you may feel and loss of movement. And it is hardly surprising that many people with arthritis report feeling depressed and anxious, and are unable to sleep. These natural responses to the effects of arthritis can also be eased by exercise, which prompts your body to release natural “feel-good” hormones called endorphins. These endorphins make you feel more confident, happy and relaxed, making life’s activities feel easier, and helping sleep to come easier, too.

If you have arthritis and you’re not doing exercise already, let us help you get moving again.

More information

For more information about exercising with arthritis, read our Physical activity information sheet, or contact us.