Fun ways to be physically active when you have arthritis

Written by: Alicia Potter
Reviewed by: Wendy Williams, BSN, MEd, March 2013

Arthritis can sideline your exercise routine. Pain, stiffness, and fatigue can make moving the last thing you want to do. But physical activity is an effective way to help alleviate symptoms. Studies show that it can help people with arthritis to reduce pain and improve their range of motion, mood, and overall quality of life. You needn’t run three miles or join an hour-long yoga class to reap the benefits. Simple, low-impact activities can deliver results. To start off on the right foot, consider the following ideas for easing back into exercise.

Where to begin

The three steps below can increase the odds that you’ll stay healthy and motivated for whatever exercises you choose. So before you step up your level of physical activity, try this warm-up.

1. Pick a goal

  • What would you like the outcome of your physical activity to be?
  • To work without pain?
  • To play with your grandchildren?
  • Set a goal that appeals to you on an emotional level; you’ll be more likely to feel inspired to become or stay active.

2. Assess your current health.

  • Are you managing your arthritis well?
  • What is your current range of motion?
  • Can you perform stretching exercises?
  • Take stock of what time of day you feel best and, if you can, schedule your physical activity for then.

3. Talk to your health care provider.

  • Ask your provider for guidelines on how much physical activity you should be doing, including:
  • Length of time.
  • Number of repetitions.
  • Range of motion.
  • Discuss any precautions you should be taking.

Moving past obstacles

Think about what might be holding you back. Common challenges that prevent us from starting or sticking with physical activity are discussed below, along with some possible solutions.

Obstacle #1: “I don’t have enough time.”Experts recommend a half hour of activity three times a week as a good starting point. Here are some ideas for fitting exercise into a busy schedule.

If you have a half hour, you can:

  • Go for a walk or bike ride.
  • Complete a yoga, Pilates, or stretching routine.
  • Do some yardwork.
  • Lift light weights at the gym.

If you have 10 minutes three times a day, you can:

  • Take a walk around the parking lot before work, at lunch, and after work.
  • Schedule stretching or strength-exercise breaks.
  • Pace while you talk on the phone.
  • Walk the dog.

Obstacle #2: “I have to work.”

Movement throughout the work day adds up and can contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle. Consider trying the following on the job:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Park your car in a spot farther from the building entrance.
  • Get off the bus a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Take a short walk at lunchtime.

Obstacle #3: “It hurts too much.”

  • Certain exercise positions may feel less painful than others. For some people, sitting or standing may be more comfortable; for others, the least painful position may be floating in a pool. Take it slow. It may take longer than you expect to build up to your goal, but be patient and don’t push too fast or too far.
  • Ask your health care provider for recommendations on stretching or strengthening exercises that you can do in your “best” position.
  • For more ideas, visit the websites of Arthritis Today and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Obstacle #4: “I’d rather be doing something else—reading, watching TV, spending time with friends and family.”

Consider combining your “me time” with some physical activity. It’s easier to commit to exercise when it’s enjoyable. Some examples:

  • Listen to an audiobook or podcast while you take a walk.
  • Watch a movie or TV as you stretch or walk on a treadmill.
  • Go on a hike with a friend or family member.
  • Use a Wii® fitness program.
  • Tour a museum.
  • Go shopping and do an extra lap around the mall.

Keep going!

Whatever you choose for your physical activity, start small—even a few minutes a day—and increase over time. Pay attention to your body. Let your health care provider know how your routine is going.

It may take a few weeks for exercise to become a habit, but don’t be discouraged. Remember that any physical activity you do is a step toward a healthier lifestyle.


Arthritis Foundation. Creative ways to add 2000 steps (Winter/Spring 2008). Arthritis Action.

Arthritis Today. Exercise videos and photos (n.d.).

Arthritis Today. Other exercises (n.d.).

Arthritis Today. Stretching & flexibility (n.d.).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical activity programs (2011).

Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. Role of exercise in the management of arthritis (n.d.).