Walking your way to happiness

Katarina walking in a field in the sunshine.

'I’m going for a walk’. It's a simple statement, but those five words could hold the key to better health, higher fitness levels, greater mobility and enhanced mental health.

It has a low impact on your joints; it works your cardiovascular system without putting it under undue stress; it can help with weight control; it releases endorphins into the bloodstream, thereby enhancing your feeling of wellbeing; and it is free – and can be done almost anywhere.

For people with arthritis, walking is a great way to include exercise in your daily regime. It increases strength and flexibility, reduces joint pain, and helps combat fatigue. Of course, there will be times when your joint pain is bogging you down, and the thought of leaving the couch makes you feel physically sick – but consider the positives of going for that walk. Once you head out, your energy levels will rise, you will feel better in yourself, and your muscles will be getting the workout they need to support your body. 

A lack of exercise can make your joints even more painful and stiff, because the surrounding muscles become weakened, and that puts more stress on the joints.

Getting started

What’s stopping you? Walking offers so many benefits, although, as with all exercise, you need to start slowly. If you haven't exercised much for a while, ease yourself in gently, maybe with a 15- to 20-minute walk, taking it at a slow pace and stopping every so often to rest. You can build up the length and intensity of your walking as your fitness increases.

If you push yourself too hard in these first sessions, you can overwork your muscles, which will cause soreness, and may worsen your joint pain – and it can be very demotivating.

Consider taking the following steps before you start to walk.

  • Apply heat, either through a hot shower, heat packs or warm towels. This will relax your muscles and relieve any pain before you set out. 
  • Move gently. Do some light range-of-motion exercises before you start.
  • Move your arms and legs through their full range of motion to get them warm and increase flexibility
  • Go slowly. Don't set off at a gallop. Ease into it steadily, take note of your surroundings, and enjoy the sensation of movement and being in the great outdoors

If you are unused to exercising, you might notice some unusual pain after exercise. It is worth talking to your doctor about what is normal and what pain might be a sign of something more serious.

For people with rheumatoid arthritis, when you suffer a general or local flare-up, one option might be to do gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises that work your muscles, without actually doing the walking.

First steps

The British Walking Federation will be able to put you in contact with the organiser of a suitable walking group in your locality. 

The Disabled Ramblers is a small charity working to make the countryside more accessible in England and Wales. They have a variety of routes on their website, including ones which are suitable for mobility scooters.

If you just want to start walking without joining a group, then the Ramblers Association publishes comprehensive walking maps and guides, which will help you to discover new routes and explore new places.

We are here

We know living with the regular pain and fatigue of arthritis can leave you feeling low There are positive steps you can take to help like walking - and we’re here to support you when you need us

You can call our free helpline on 0800 5200 520. Alternatively, you can share your own experience and learn about other people’s experiences through our online community and on our Facebook page.