Exercise and arthritis - the benefits of keeping active

17 February 2020
Two runners waving.

We should all aim to do at least some exercise every day, especially as it’s one of the best things you can do to improve your arthritis symptoms. It can help pain, reduce the risks in surgery and improve recovery for people needing a joint replacement or waiting for one.

However, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to exercise when you’re tired and in pain. Here, we suggest some tips on how to stay active when it’s feeling like a struggle.

I feel…tired

If you want to hit snooze instead of exercising first thing, chances are you might not have had enough sleep or your sleep pattern is erratic, says Harrison Bogdanovs, head coach at Virgin Active.

“Aim for eight hours’ sleep [children and pregnant women need more], but try for the same eight hours every night,” he explains. “It’s important to get into good habits so that your brain knows when to expect to sleep and get up.

“If you need to, set your alarm so that you know when it’s time to go to bed as well as when to wake – studies show that irregular sleep patterns result in poorer quality sleep. That way you’ll feel less inclined to hit the snooze button.”

I feel…achy

It’s important to listen to your body when living with a long-term condition such as arthritis, so if you’re very stiff and sore, a more intensive exercise session may not be right for that day.

“However, don’t use this as an excuse not to move at all,” says Bogdanovs. “Instead, drop the intensity, opting for low-impact walking and stretching, and make sure you keep your activity levels up by moving more where possible – so walk instead of getting the bus or take the stairs instead of the lift.

“Exercise has been shown time and again to be helpful in managing arthritis, and general fitness and strengthening exercises should be part of your routine.

A little bit of exercise is better than nothing

”You feel…bored with your routine It’s time to shake things up! “Speak to a fitness expert at your local gym or try new classes with a friend,” says Bogdanovs.

“Exercising with someone else is great motivation as you’re less likely to skip it, and it’s more fun with two. Classes with a friend can help you feel less nervous about trying something new.

Do some research before you go so that it’s not a complete surprise and tell the instructor that you’ll take things at your own pace to start with.

Nervous energy is normal and not a bad thing. Embrace it and try something new – it’s a great confidence booster.”

I feel…demotivated

Work out what it is that’s putting you off exercising and tackle those reasons one by one, says Bogdanovs.

Cold and dark outside? Then exercise at home. There are plenty of apps and YouTube videos you can choose from, and you don’t have to leave the comfort of your living room. If it takes you a while to get moving in the morning, train at a different time of day.

Not everyone is a morning person, and a workout is a workout, no matter what time you do it.”

I… just don’t like exercise

“I would challenge this,” says Bogdanovs. “I think it’s more about finding the activity that’s right for you. There are a huge variety of classes and exercise options at the gym, but it’s not for everyone. Instead, you could try walking, swimming or perhaps water aerobics.

“Team sports can be more motivating for some people and exercising with someone of around the same ability level can put you at ease. This is especially the case if they have the same goal as you. So, go on – give it a go!”

To stay motivated, it's important to:

  • do exercise that you enjoy
  • set realistic goals - it's normal for these goals to change as your condition changes
  • do it regularly.

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