Living with Arthritis? Get Moving and Feel Better

Photo: Paul Green on Unsplash

Here, six tips to tame the pain.

If you suffer from the disease, no doubt you’re already all too aware of chronic joint pain, stiffness and swelling. But did you know that exercise – even mild exercise – can in many cases help not only to reduce pain and increase mobility but improve your overall quality of life?

According to The Arthritis Society, more than 4.6 million Canadians have arthritis, the most common chronic condition reported by women and the third most common among men. And while arthritis is often perceived as an old person’s disease, more than half of the Canadians living with arthritis are under 65. Exercise, as it turns out, has been identified as one of the key elements in managing the disease.

“We at the Arthritis Society really encourage people to stay physically active because it has so many benefits,” says Karen Gordon, an Ottawa-based registered physiotherapist and clinical practice lead with The Arthritis Society.

“When we move, we help to lubricate our joints. We help to strengthen our muscles. We improve our flexibility and improve endurance. People who exercise more also tend to be in a better mood. And the other biggie is people who exercise also tend to sleep better – and people who sleep better feel better.”

So why doesn’t everyone do it then?

“There’s a fear factor, for one thing” says Karen. “Once someone gets a diagnosis of arthritis, they’re often afraid they’re going to hurt themselves. So here at The Arthritis Society we want to encourage people and tell them ‘don’t be afraid, continue to try to stay active, but you might have to pick different things than you’ve done in the past’.”

Photo: Mike Fox on Unsplash


Here, Karen offers some general tips if you’re living with arthritis and want to start an exercise program:

1) Go low-impact: Choose something like walking, cycling, swimming (aquafit is great), low-impact exercise classes, or strength/resistance training. These are typically easier on the joints.

2) Stay away from high-impact sports: Stay away from racket sports, running, twisting, jumping (think soccer, tennis). “In general, no matter what kind of arthritis you’re living with, it’s best to avoid these activities,” says Karen.

3) Respect your joint pain: This is one of the cardinal rules. “Don’t ignore it. Listen to it,” Karen emphasizes. “Your joints will tell you at the end of the day if what you did was good for them or not.”

4) Pick something you like: There’s so much choice out there, so make sure you try something you think you’ll enjoy. You’re much more apt to stick with it. “Walking is a great choice – if you can walk. If you can’t walk because you have advanced painful arthritis in a lot of joints, exercising in the pool is magic,” says Karen. “Water is really special. It’s not weight-bearing, it’s super low impact and very therapeutic – especially a warm pool. Almost everyone who does get to a pool notices how much easier it is to exercise in the water.”

5) Go gradually: “Start slow and increase gradually,” says Karen, citing something she calls the 10 per cent rule. If you decide to start walking, don’t increase the amount you walk more than 10 per cent per week. “Even if you’re someone who has never exercised in their life, start with 10 minutes and make your goal to build up to 30 minutes.”

6) Make time for 150 minutes per week: That’s 30 minutes a day for five days out of the week. “That’s for all of us. We should all be trying to get 30 minutes a day – minimum,” says Karen. “I’m happy if people do the minimum, but if you can build up to an hour a day that’s even better.”