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The Best and Worst Types of Exercise for Arthritis

Arthritis has the unfortunate power of changing your entire life. Everything from your ability to work, to your emotional well-being, can be affected. One of the best ways to maximize your health and wellness with arthritis is through exercise, but it can be tricky figuring out what exercises you should be doing and which ones you should avoid. Below you will find more information on the best exercises for arthritis and the worst exercises for arthritis, so you can make more informed decisions on the types of activities you choose to engage in!

The Prevalence of Arthritis

According to the CDC- an estimated 27.7% (54.4 million) of American adults live with doctor-diagnosed arthritis. If that number wasn't staggering enough, the CDC also states that about 43.5% (23.7 million) of those doctor-diagnosed individuals face daily limitations due to their arthritis. These limitations can range from the ability to walk a 1/4 mile to reaching above one's head. Besides these 2 limitations, there are 7 more common daily activities that are cited as being challenging, or even impossible when living with arthritis:

  • Grip strength and ability

  • Sit for 2 hours

  • Lift or carry as much as 10 pounds

  • Climb a flight of stairs without resting

  • Push or pull heavy objects

  • Stand for 2 hours

  • Stoop, bend, or kneel

Many of the above tasks are ones that most people take for granted, it's no wonder how arthritis can disrupt and steal so much of your life. If you've been diagnosed with arthritis you may even struggle with depression and/or anxiety due to chronic pain and fatigue. Therefore, it is so important that you take great care of yourself and find ways to maximize your health with an arthritis diagnosis. Number one on that list? Exercise!

The Best Exercises for Arthritis

Exercise is one of the absolute best things you can do to maximize your health when living with arthritis pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, "exercise is crucial for people with arthritis. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue." Despite these numerous health benefits, there is a lingering stigma that exercise will make your joints hurt. The opposite is actually true: not exercising will make your arthritis pain worse and your muscles feel even stiffer. This is because keeping your muscles and surrounding tissue strong is crucial to maintaining support for your bones. Not exercising weakens those supporting muscles, creating more stress on your joints. The best exercises for arthritis (in no particular order of benefit):

  • Stretching

  • Walking

  • Swimming

  • Cycling

  • Aquatic fitness classes

  • Yoga, Pilates, or barre

  • Tai Chi

  • Light weight-lifting

Exercise is also important for mental health and well-being as it decreases depression and eases anxiety that can also be symptoms of living with arthritis.

The Worst Exercises for Arthritis

Although exercise is one of the best things you can do for arthritis, there are some activities that should be avoided, unless your doctor states otherwise. These activities include:

  • Anything that requires running, jumping, or excessive twisting of the trunk

  • Vigorous, forced stretching

  • Fitness classes that use words like, “high impact”, or “HIIT”.

  • Heavy weight-lifting

  • CrossFit

  • Leg extension machines

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that any amount and just about any type of exercise is good for you and promotes a higher quality of life. There aren't any "bad" exercise activities. However, when living with certain conditions such as arthritis, some types of exercise are simply better at promoting joint longevity than others. These are the ones that you want to focus on! Before making any changes to your current lifestyle, please discuss with your doctor and/or care team first.

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