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Staying Active with Osteoarthritis

June 16, 2021

Do you deal with the pain, stiffness, reduced flexibility and swelling that comes with osteoarthritis? If so, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 32.5 million adults in the United States have osteoarthritis.

an elderly man holding a dumbbell and smiling

This most common form of arthritis develops slowly, worsens over time and frequently affects the hands, hips, and knees. In osteoarthritis, cartilage within a joint breaks down and the bone begins to change as a result of aging, genetics, joint overuse, injury, or obesity. Women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men, especially after the age of 50.

Chronic joint pain and stiffness can make daily tasks difficult, and osteoarthritis can keep people from favorite activities or work, disrupt sleep and even lead to depression. 

How Can Physical Activity Help? 

If you have osteoarthritis, your doctor may prescribe medications to help with your pain. Staying active can also help reduce your joint pain, improve function and flexibility, and help you stay at a healthy weight to reduce pressure on your joints.

If you have osteoarthritis, the CDC says to focus on “joint-friendly” activities. Low-impact exercises, which reduce your risk of injury, include:

  • Swimming
  • Water aerobics
  • Walking
  • Biking
  • Elliptical workouts
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Pilates
  • Dance (depending on style)
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Light gardening

In addition to the benefits for your osteoarthritis, regular physical activity can help improve your cardiovascular health, strengthen your muscles, improve your balance, and help you prevent or manage chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  

Getting Started with an Exercise Plan 

The CDC recommends beginning a safe and beneficial physical activity routine by following these “S.M.A.R.T.” tips:

  • Start low, go slow.
  • Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase and try to stay active.
  • Activities should be “joint-friendly.”
  • Recognize safe places and ways to be active.
  • Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist. 

If you have osteoarthritis, your body may need some time to adjust to new levels of activity. Adding five or 10 minutes of exercise a day is a good place to start, and you can work your way up to your goals.

Experts recommend you work up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity each week. They also recommend adding muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups two or more days a week. Talk to your doctor to determine what level and types of aerobic and strengthening activities are appropriate for you and if you should work with a physical therapist or trainer.

You may feel some increased pain and stiffness when starting an exercise routine, but you should see your doctor for severe or long-lasting pain or swelling that does not improve with rest, hot or cold packs, or over-the-counter pain relievers. Remember to start slow, switch up your exercises if certain ones are causing you pain, warm-up and cool down for each workout, and exercise at a comfortable pace.

Check out more tips for exercising with osteoarthritis from the Arthritis Foundation, and learn what joint-friendly exercise options are available at your Embark community by speaking to the activities coordinator.  

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