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10 gentle exercises to ease arthritis

Daniel Couglin / 30 January 2017 ( 15 April 2021 )

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

Chair yoga
The gentlest form of yoga, chair yoga is particularly kind to 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.

According to Versus Arthritis, doing at least 30 minutes of exercise that makes you a bit short of breath five times a week is great for joints. The charity also recommends spending 30 minutes a day on your feet – e.g. walking or climbing stairs. According to the latest NICE guidelines exercise should also include muscle strengthening, so 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. 

 If you have recently been diagnosed with arthritis and/or it is some time since you last exercised regularly consult your doctor, rheumatology team or physiotherapist before embarking on a new exercise programme.

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 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

Pilates is all about strengthening the body from head to toe and involves gently mobilizing the joints, strengthening your core muscles and bodyweight exercises done on a mat or using special equipment such as the Cadillac and Reformer. Like chair yoga, Pilates is an effective low-impact exercise that is kind to the joints. Tempted to give it a go? Try this NHS Fitness Studio workout, created especially for people with arthritis: nhs.uk/conditions/nhs-fitness-studio/pages/arthritis-pilates-exercise-video.aspx

Learn more about how Pilates can help your health

Swimming

The quintessential low-impact exercise, swimming is suitable for people with arthritis. Swimming in a well-heated pool is ideal – the warm water will help ease your aching, inflamed joints. 
To find a pool near you visit swimming.org/poolfinder - it’s worth checking their timetable for disabled swimming sessions or quiet swims.

Swim your way to fitness

Aqua aerobics

Finding an aqua aerobics class near you is great news if you're living with arthritis. The typical aqua aerobics class involves a variety of light resistance exercises performed standing up in water. Because 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, find information on classes and instructors at Nordic Walking UK.

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 in the US 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 it online: onlinetaichilessons.com

Find out more about Tai Chi

Cycling

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. 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.

What sort of bike should I get

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.

Want to talk to a GP today? With Saga Health Insurance, you have unlimited access to a qualified GP 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Find out more about our GP phone service.


Light weight training

Weight training may appear to be overly harsh on the joints but if you stick to 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 (now Versus Arthritis) found that people who trained regularly with light weight trainers had stronger muscles, improved muscle tone and a reduced risk of pain and stiffness. As with any exercise, 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 more about exercising with arthritis and the types of exercises best for different arthritic conditions visit: versusarthritis.org/we-are-undefeatable

Check with your local gym, pool, fitness studio or exercise provider to find out about Covid 19 restrictions and safety measures currently in place. 

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

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.