10 gentle exercises to ease arthritis

Daniel Couglin / 30 January 2017 ( 18 September 2018 )

Joint-friendly workouts that may help ease your stiff, aching joints.

Living with stiff, aching joints? You may feel like resting when your arthritis is flaring up but you'd be better off hitting the gym rather than your bed or sofa. “Regular exercise is vital to keep your joints healthy,” says Professor Mark Batt, a consultant in sport and exercise medicine at Nottingham University.

According to Arthritis Research UK, working out for 30 minutes, five times a week, helps keep the joints supple and can reduce the pain of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. Gentle, low-impact aerobic exercise, soothing stretches and light weight training are the way forward.

To get you started, here are 10 joint-friendly workouts to try. As always, it's advisable to run any new fitness regime by your doctor, just to be on the safe side.

Lifestyle changes that may help if you have arthritis

Chair yoga

The gentlest form of yoga, chair yoga is particularly kind to joints and consists of performing untaxing yoga poses from the comfort of a chair. Typical poses include simple shoulder shrugs, upper body twists and arm raises. This form of yoga has been shown to reduce the pain of osteoarthritis – a study published last year by researchers at Florida Atlantic University found that arthritis sufferers who participated in twice-weekly chair yoga classes experienced fewer aches and pains.

Learn more about the health benefits of yoga


Pilates is all about strengthening the body from head to toe and involves a lot of stretching, core stability and bodyweight exercises that are done on a mat or using special equipment such as the Cadillac and Reformer systems. Like chair yoga, pilates is an effective low-impact exercise that isn't hard on the joints. If you're tempted to give it a go, try this NHS Fitness Studio workout, which has been created specially for people with arthritis.


Learn more about how pilates can help your health


The quintessential low-impact exercise, swimming is suitable for people with arthritis and can be an especially effective exercise for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. Swimming in a well-heated pool is ideal – the warm water will help ease your aching, inflamed joints. Stroke-wise, stick to front crawl and backstroke if you can. Arthritis Research UK advises that breaststroke can put excessive strain on arthritic knees and hips, so it's best-avoided.

Swim your way to fitness

Aqua aerobics

Working out in water is a huge fitness trend for 2017 and aqua aerobics classes are springing up across the UK, which is great news if you're living with arthritis. The typical aqua aerobics class involves a variety of light resistance exercises that are performed standing up in water. While water is 12 times more resistant than air, it cushions the joints and helps build muscle with minimal risk of discomfort or injury, just what you need if you suffer from arthritis.

Get fit with aqua aerobics

Water walking

If the thought of doing aerobics in a pool doesn't float your boat, why not keep it extra-simple and try basic water walking instead? Water walking is exactly that – you simply wade from one side of the shallow end of a swimming pool to the other and repeat. You get a decent workout while limiting the risk of discomfort or injury, and you don't have to worry about following a complicated routine.

Nordic walking

In a nutshell Nordic walking is cross-country walking using special ski-like poles. By using the poles, which activate and engage muscles in the upper body, you get a near-total body workout that is easy on the joints and good for your heart. If you're interested in giving it a try, Nordic Walking UK is packed with information on the activity and offers Nordic walking classes up and down the country.

Find out more about Nordic walking

Tai Chi

Dubbed 'a natural arthritis workout' by the American Arthritis Association, Tai Chi is characterised by gentle flowing movements that help relieve tension and strengthen the joints. Fancy trying it out? Look no further than the Tai Chi For Arthritis programme, which was developed by Dr Paul Lam in the 1990s. This modified take on the ancient Chinese martial art has been proven to help alleviate arthritic pain, improve balance and even prevent falls.

Find out more about Tai Chi


Study after study has shown that regular low-intensity cycling can help reduce the pain of osteoarthritis. In fact, Robert Middleton, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and hip specialist at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital, has devised CHAIN, a hip pain-busting exercise programme based on cycling, such is its effectiveness. A good pedal on an exercise bike or cycle in the open air will help strengthen the knees too, and keep them nice and supple.

Elliptical training

Full-on jogging can be risky for people with arthritis as it can put excessive pressure on already damaged joints. You'll get similar fitness benefits and enjoy a much lower risk of joint pain or damage if you work out on an elliptical or cross trainer instead. This sort of machine distributes bodyweight evenly in a controlled way, taking the edge off the impact and protecting the joints from damage.

Light weight training

Weight training may appear to be overly harsh on the joints but if you limit yourself to using light weights, you could experience an increase in muscle strength and tone, along with a reduction in arthritic pain and discomfort. A 2010 study funded by Arthritis Research UK found that regular light weight trainers had stronger muscles, improved tone and a reduced risk of pain and stiffness. As with any exercise, it's important to warm up properly before you weight train to avoid injury and limit post-workout discomfort, as well as keeping an eye on your pulse rate throughout.

For other great and gentle exercise ideas, why not try our top 10 flexibility exercises, or our list of nine easy chair exercises?

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