Arthritis: Aerobic Exercise to the Rescue

Arthritis pain leads to reduced mobility and poor physical fitness in older adults.  Pain from arthritis starts a vicious cycle.  This includes reduced physical activity, depression, more pain, and ultimately worsening health and quality of life.  Does this sound painfully familiar?

People with chronic conditions, like arthritis, should perform regular aerobic exercise.  We do not recommend excessive rest and relaxation.  Regular exercise leads to improved functional abilities that are important to perform your daily activities like shopping and taking care of your home.

To maintain aerobic fitness and weight control, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends you perform aerobic exercise 3 to 5 days a week for 20 to 60 minutes each day.  The type of aerobic exercise you perform is completely up to you.  Also, it is important that you select the method that resonates most with you so you can stick to it.

Aerobic Exercise for Arthritis: A Proven Treatment


A large group of medical providers and researchers from around the world have developed aerobic exercise guidelines for people with knee arthritis.  Their recommendations include performing aerobic exercise along with strengthening exercises to achieve the greatest benefits.   Individualized programs or exercising in a group are both effective.

Types of Aerobic Exercise for People with Arthritis

Walking, cycling, and even running are popular forms of exercise for people with arthritis.  You can perform these kinds of exercises indoors or outdoors. According to the latest research, great results are achieved with walking programs performed at least 3 days per week.  Many other people get great results from group aerobic exercise classes.  For example, Zumba and step aerobics are excellent options.

Hip and knee arthritis

Individualized or Group Aerobic Exercise 

Physical therapists prescribe strengthening, stretching, balance, and aerobic exercise for people with knee and hip arthritis.  If you are looking for an individually tailored program, reach out to your physical therapist.

Group classes provide social support that can help you stick to it for the long run.  Group aerobic classes are available at many local health and fitness facilities.  We recommend Southern Fit, Elite Fitness, Pyour Core, Black Sheep, and others.

The Biggest Myth about Arthritis and Exercise

Has anyone ever told you exercise is harmful?   We sometimes hear, “exercise will only make my arthritis worse.”  Many well-educated medical professionals even make these erroneous claims.  Yes, the wrong type or amount of exercise may exacerbate your pain.  When in doubt, get some help when starting out.  In fact, well-prescribed individualized exercise will help your arthritis pain and make you a happier healthier person.

2019 review of 103 different clinical trials found 4 different types of exercise to be beneficial for people with pain from hip and knee arthritis.  These were strength training, stretching, aerobics, and mind-body exercises like yoga or tai chi.  Yoga, tai chi, and aerobic exercise are proven forms of exercise for reducing your pain.  In fact, 8 weeks of regular aerobic exercise is proven to reduce your pain from hip and knee arthritis by 50%.  This is pretty powerful.

Accept the fact that all pain is not harmful.  Expect some pain when starting out.  However, do your best to keep it to a minimum.  Pain is your brain’s way of telling you about a potential threat.  Humans are naturally wired to look out for threats to survival. However, you can decrease this perceived threat, and your pain, by truly believing that exercise is in your best interest for survival.  And this is a fact.  If you are unsure, learn more about how pain works here.

Tips to Start Your Exercise Program Today


If aerobic exercise is new to you, start small.  For example, begin with 5 minute walks 3 days per week.  Then set a goal to increase the frequency of your walks up to 5 days per week.  Also, track your steps or keep a log.  Enlist family members or friends to join you and hold each other accountable.

If you need more help, sign up for a class or see your physical therapist.  Don’t wait if you are having trouble on your own. Waiting for circumstances around you to change is not going to change your life for the better. Mark Twain said, “the secret to getting ahead is getting started.”

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