How to Exercise with Arthritis

It might seem impossible to think about exercising with arthritis, especially on days when you can barely think about getting out of bed. Plus, you may think that exercise will aggravate your arthritis and cause flare-ups of stiff, painful joints.

But it’s just the opposite. Staying active is important for managing most types of arthritis, whether you live with a wear-and-tear type like osteoarthritis or an inflammatory type like psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis, or even a chronic pain condition like fibromyalgia.

Luckily, there are ways to make exercising with arthritis easier, especially on days when your joints are a little stiffer and you’re a little more fatigued than usual. You don’t even have to spend hours at the gym; just make an effort to get up and move.


Before you start working out, it may be motivating to know the benefits of exercising with arthritis ­— and there are plenty:

  • Stronger bones
  • Stronger muscles
  • Better posture
  • Strengthens your heart – people with inflammatory arthritis have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease because of the inflammation, so aerobic exercise can help to strengthen the heart.
  • Decreased fatigue – studies show that exercise helps fight fatigue and reduce inflammation and improve sleep.
  • Weight management – Exercise will help you to loose weight which will help decrease stress on your joints.
  • Improved mental health, decreases anxiety and depression.


A big part of figuring out how to exercise with arthritis is knowing when to get moving and when to take a rest. Although every person is different, here are some general recommendations to consider:

  • Wake up and go. Exercise helps ease morning stiffness which is common in patients with arthritis.  Dog owners often say that their morning stiffness is gone by the time they get back from their morning walk.  It is hard if you are really struggling to get out of bed because of the pain, however, the more you walk and move, the better you will feel.
  • Listen to your body. There are days when you should not exercise because there is too much pain and there is joint inflammation, or you are more tired than usual. Listen to your body and rest on these days.  You might need to take medication, put ice packs on your joints and call your physiotherapist for advice.
  • Don’t overdo it. It is very important not to over-exercise even if you are feeling good!  This can cause too much strain on your joints, so stick to your usual level of exercise.  Pacing and learning what your limits are is important when you have chronic pain. 
  • Avoid late-night workouts. Try not to exercise too close to bedtime to avoid interrupting sleep patterns.
  • Try to be consistent.  This is difficult when you are tired and have painful joints, and there will be a lot of reasons why you cannot exercise on certain days (feeling down, scheduled hospital appointments, being sick etc.), it is harder to get back into a routine once you get out of the routine.  So, try to stick to the bare minimum of exercise regularly, even if it is a few stretching techniques or a 5-minute walk.


Speak to your doctor or physiotherapist before you start exercise.  Also consider signing up with a personal trainer who can take into consideration your arthritic pain and can help you progress slowly and gradually at your own pace, whilst taking care of your joints and your body.

Apply heat to your joints affected by arthritis before a workout to ease pain and stiffness and improve circulation to the muscles and joints.

Allow 10-15 minutes for an active warm-up to prepare the muscles for increased activity. A good warm-up is necessary.  Make sure that you feel a little bit sweaty before you start walking / cycling or stretching.

Consider investing in an activity tracker (like a pedometer, Fitbit, or Apple Watch), which can help motivate you to move more by watching the number of steps that you take daily. Find your average daily step and work around it.  The exercise guidelines suggest 10,000 steps daily however you might need to discuss this with your physio to find out what the ideal step count should be for you.

Find something that you enjoy so it is easier to commit to exercise.  Exercise with a friend or meet a friend every time after exercise.  This will make exercise more enjoyable and easier to continue even on the days when you don’t feel like it.  Don’t forget that dancing counts as exercise so if this is something you enjoy, put your dancing shoes on!

Cardio – A good cardio session has a wide range of both physical and mental health benefits, including less stiffness, fatigue, anxiety, and depression, and better range of motion, improved endurance, and more energy. Good low-impact options include walking, water exercise, swimming, and bicycling.

Take it slow and steady. Start with short bouts of cardio and gradually increase your time if you’re not experiencing any issues. For example, if you’re walking for five minutes and feel tired, try to stick with five minutes each day for a week — and then progress to 10 minutes the next week, 15 minutes the next, and slowly push yourself further.

Water exercise is the best.  Research shows that water exercises are very beneficial for patients who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and help them manage their pain and stiffness better.  Find a nice warm pool that has easy access into and out of the pool for safety reasons and maybe ask a friend to join you whilst you enjoy exercising in water. 

Think variety. if you exercise three times per week, you might think about walking one day, biking another day, and walking with a little bit of yoga on the next day.

Strength Training. Do not be scared to lift weights!  Choose the right weights and build gradually under the guidance of the physio or personal trainer.  Make it challenging, but not too challenging, and always listen to your body.  Remember there will be days when the joints are more inflamed than usual, and the fatigue will be greater.


Apply cold packs. This will help prevent inflammation in the joints after the workout.

Allow time to stretch at the end of your workout.

Have patience. Don’t expect results overnight.  It is not easy exercising with arthritis, especially with inflammatory joints.  It is very important that you listen to your body and find the best exercise for you.  Ideally, there are lots of breaks during the workout and the trainer is aware of your condition and your needs.

Be kind to yourself.  On busy days or days when you feel really tired, be kind to yourself and do a small amount of exercise.  On days when you are busy doing chores at home (e.g.:  Gardening, cleaning the house), count that as your exercise for the day.  Also, find the right time to exercise that works out best for you (morning or afternoon).