When your joints ache, you’re probably not that eager to exercise, even though you’ve heard time and again that you should. Whether you have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fibromyalgia, exercise promises a host of benefits: not only does it keep your joints strong and flexible, it may also provide pain relief.

The experts at arthritis.org have a great list of low-impact, joint-friendly, and fun (because if it isn’t fun why do it) ways to shape up. Here are some great ideas:

Water Walking

Walking in waist-deep water lessens the weight on your joints by 50%, when we compare it with walking on land. And while water walking is recommended for people who have had a joint replacement, it is obviously best to wait for the incision to heal.

Water Aerobics

Water aerobics involves your upper and lower body, is usually done in chest-deep water, and lessens the impact on your joints by up to 75%. Some easy walking or arm movements will warm you up before you start, and check with your local gyms for an instructor.


Of course. Because swimming works all of your muscle groups and builds good cardiovascular endurance. Safety is key, of course, so choose a stroke that is most comfortable for your joints. For example, your legs are straight in freestyle, which makes it a good choice if you have knee or hip arthritis.

Lawn Bowls

Because this activity is done in a relatively upright position, with minimal lunging, bending is at a minimum. Just don’t send your knee or extend your arm beyond a comfortable range of motion. Need I also mention the social aspect of bowls? Probably not.


Golf works your upper back, legs, shoulders, wrists, and hands. It is a great walk, and make sure to wear soft shoes. Lightweight clubs with graphite shafts are better for arthritis, and if you can use a wheeled cart. No point in carrying a heavy bag around with you. If you hurt after a few holes, take a break. Sometimes you have to scale back to enjoy the game long-term.

Treadmill Walking

The treadmill allows you to go easy, with no surprise uphills or downhills, and has bars for support, at the front and on the side. You can move at a pace which is comfortable for you. Start slowly, with 10 to 15 minutes at a time 3 or more days a week. When you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes at a time, you can gradually up your pace. Just bear in mind that changing the incline beyond 5% to 10% could stress your joints.

Walking Outdoors

All walking is good for relieving the pain of arthritis, strengthening muscles, and reducing stress, but you also get the benefits of being outdoors. Stick to smooth, dirt trails if possible: these are kinder on the knees than tar or concrete. And remember that walking downhill can stress your knees, as well.


Whether indoors or outdoors, cycling works all the muscles in your lower body, even your feet. Adjust your seat height so that – when your leg is extended – your knee is slightly bent. Wear padded gloves to lessen the shock if you are outdoors, and avoid handlebars that cause you to hunch over. Upright stationary and outdoor bikes can also aggravate knee and back problems, so a slight bend at the waist is the best idea.

Elliptical Machines

The elliptical machine does most of the work for you, and your joints go through a fluid, circular motion. That’s why this exercise places less stress and strain on your lower body. Start with 10-minute sessions for the first few weeks, increasing by 5 to 10 minutes a week. Begin at the lowest (easiest) settings and bear in mind that – if balance or coordination is a problem for you – then this machine is not your best idea.


Done on a floor mat or machine, Pilates stretches the spine and strengthens muscles. However, choose an instructor who knows what they are doing and has experience with arthritis. Bending forward with a curved back is a risk, and always move at your own pace and at a pain-free range.


A slow-paced class that emphasises proper form is the one to choose, as it improves flexibility, strengthens muscles, and reduces stress. Certain moves can stress affected joints and – if you feel uncomfortable – modify your pace or assume a resting pose. As with Pilates, carefully pick an instructor for their experience and knowledge of dealing with arthritis.

Tai Chi

Suitable for pretty much everyone, this mind-body martial art is known for its slow, fluid movements, emphasising joint rotation and balance. It is great for relieving stress and arthritis pain. Wear comfortable footwear with good support, and loose clothing. If your range of motion is limited, ask the instructor for modified moves and – again – make sure the instructor knows what they are doing and has experience with arthritis. Tai Chi can also be done seated and modifications can be made to almost any practice.

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