Why and How You Should Exercise With Arthritis

October 12th is World Arthritis Day and it’s a great opportunity to raise awareness for a condition that affects 528 million people worldwide. It’s also the perfect time to show our support for the 1 in 5 Australians over the age of 45 that are affected by osteoarthritis (OA). Let’s take a look at how exercise can help improve arthritis symptoms! 

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), you’ll already be familiar with the symptoms that accompany the disease: swollen, stiff, and tender joints. What you might be less familiar with is that exercise is not only one of the best things you can do to improve your symptoms of OA, but it’s also a very effective way to keep your joints healthy in the first place.


As you age, your symptoms of OA are likely to worsen. Some people may eventually even find it difficult to walk a flight of stairs or get up out of a chair without help. A regular exercise routine is an excellent way to remain independent and take control of the pace at which OA impacts your life.

Exercise is considered an integral element of evidence-based management for anyone with OA. Increasing your level of physical activity is an effective way to reduce the severity of your OA symptoms. In fact, exercise is now deemed the safest and most effective treatment for OA, ahead of medications such as pain relief and surgery.

The many benefits of exercise for arthritis, include:

  • Increased muscle strength
  • Improved balance
  • Weight management to reduce the load on impacted and sore joints
  • Improved flexibility
  • Decreased pain
  • Improvement in wellbeing, sleep, and mood

When you factor in the difficulty of finding a comfortable sleeping position with joint pain and worrying about living with a chronic condition, it’s not surprising that 70% of people with OA experience difficulty sleeping.  Unfortunately, poor sleep can result in an ongoing cycle of more pain because your body repairs itself during sleep and sleep is crucial for recovery. More pain and less sleep also increase your risk of depression. Exercise of any kind will benefit both your sleep as well as your mood and mental health. In tandem, sufficient sleep and better mental health will help improve your symptoms of OA.





Incidental exercise, like walking or cycling instead of driving, or picking something up from the floor all helps improve the flexibility of your joints. Importantly, exercise reduces your risk of falling and damaging your joints further.


There are different types of exercises that are beneficial including aquatic exercise, resistance training, cardio, pilates or yoga. Usually, a combination of strength and cardio exercise is best. An exercise professional, such as an exercise physiologist, will help provide advice on what exercise is best for you and your condition and design a program best suited to your preferences and limitations.


If you haven’t previously exercised before or if you need help getting going or understanding what exercise is best for you, speak to an accredited exercise physiologist. They can advise and help to prescribe and monitor an exercise program for your arthritis. Find your nearest accredited exercise physiologist here.

If you’re worried about exercising for fear of making your arthritis symptoms worse, rest assured that the research shows that lack of movement is more likely to worsen your symptoms as it encourages the joints to remain stiff. Regular exercise may also help to lubricate your cartilage in joints and reduce joint stiffness.


A good way to start with exercise is to build strength using resistance training (e.g., body weight squats, and weight machines). Using light weights or even your own body weight to increase your muscle strength helps support your joints and reduce joint stiffness and pain.


Regardless of your age, where your pain is, or how severe it is – exercise will be one of the best and most effective ways to improve your arthritis symptoms. Not sure where to start or feeling overwhelmed? Click here to find your nearest accredited exercise physiologist today. 



Written by Dr. Annie Jeffries. Dr. Jeffries is a lecturer at the University of Newcastle and an ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Exercise Scientist. Dr. Jeffries has published a number of peer-reviewed journal articles and presented her research at national and international conferences, and also to organisations such as Arsenal Football Club Health and Medical team. 


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