an elderly woman swimming in a pool

Staying Active with Arthritis

Exercises for Arthritis

Are you experiencing the joint pain and stiffness associated with arthritis? You are not alone; according to the Arthritis Foundation, 1.5 million Americans live with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

People who are active live healthier and happier lives; this is a well-known and proven concept. Arthritis pain should not stop you from practicing physical activities and staying healthy.

Some exercises are actually tailored to help ease joint pain, without putting extra pressure on the joints. Let’s take a look at the best exercises for arthritis.

What Is Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by inflammation in the joints that can bring on pain and stiffness. It typically affects the hands, knees and ankles, but can also occur in other parts of the body. The onset of arthritis commonly happens in mid-life and affects more women than men. You may be more at risk for developing arthritis if you have a family history of the condition.

Arthritis is an auto-immune disease. During flare-ups, the body attacks the fluid in the joints, causing inflammation, stiffness and pain. RA is not curable, but a combination of medication, physical therapy and dietary supplements can help alleviate symptoms.

Best Exercises for Arthritis

According to Hope Ricciotti, M.D. and Toni Golen, M.D. from Harvard Health Publishing, "...exercise can reduce arthritis-related pain, fatigue, and stiffness. Exercise is also important for your overall health and can help reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes."

Start Stretching

Stretching will reduce stiffness and increase flexibility. When done in the morning, it will even increase your range of motion for the day. It’s an excellent idea to incorporate regular daily stretching into your routine when you have RA.

Warm-up for 3-5 minutes by walking in place before you start your stretching exercises.

Looking for some stretching ideas? Here’s a short video showing great stretching exercises for people with RA.

Tai Chi/ Yoga

Slow-moving exercises like Tai Chi and yoga are excellent if you have RA. They help increase balance, range of motion and flexibility.

Find a center with a qualified instructor, mention that you have RA and run through your symptoms with them. They can tailor your routine to your needs.



Walking is a great activity for anyone at any age. Listen to your body and adapt your walking routine to what feels best. Feeling great? Walk faster and farther. Feeling some pain? Slow down and walk a shorter distance.

Why not bring your partner or the (grand) kids along on your walk? The more the merrier!

Remember to wear comfortable footwear and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.


Swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise that you can do when you have RA. Water aerobics are great for heart health, while putting very little stress on your joints.

Find a swim class in your area that is designed for people over 50; that way you can feel comfortable and rest assured that the exercises won’t be too difficult.


Exercise doesn’t have to necessarily come in the form of traditional movements. Activities like gardening can also be good for your joints and overall health. Gardening can also help improve your mood and provide hours of enjoyment.

Strength Training

Strengthening your muscles can help ease the stiffness and pain in your joints. A physical therapist or trainer who specializes in RA can help build a routine for you.

Hand Exercises

Try simple hand exercises if your hands are particularly affected by RA. Do these in the morning to help get you started for your day.

Low Impact Exercises

The key to successful arthritis exercise is to adopt low-impact, gentle and slow movements in every activity or exercise that you do. Strengthening and stretching your muscles can help with arthritis flare-ups, but you need to listen to your body and never over-exert yourself.

Helpful Tip: Incorporate the exercises that you like doing the most. This way you will remain motivated and fully reap the benefits. You should never force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy.

Consult a Medical Professional

You should consult with your primary care provider anytime you want to start a new exercise routine when you have RA. This way you can rest assured that you are not putting yourself at risk for injury or complications.

Don’t let RA stop you from your favorite activities. Together, RA medication and some regular exercises for arthritis can leave you with less joint pain, better overall health and an improved mood.

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