Getting regular exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle. Adults are advised to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week, even if they have chronic health conditions like arthritis.
When your joints are stiff and sore, the idea of working out regularly may sound counterintuitive. However, making physical activity part of your routine is a proven way to ease arthritis symptoms. Read on to learn how exercise helps manage arthritis and get joint-friendly exercise ideas.
Table of Contents
The Benefits of Working Out If You Have Arthritis
Exercise can provide numerous benefits for people with arthritis. Regular physical activity helps to improve joint flexibility, reduce pain and inflammation, strengthen muscles and bones, and enhance overall physical function. It also aids in maintaining a healthy weight, alleviating stress on the joints, and improving mobility.
Let’s take a closer look at exactly how exercise helps those with arthritis feel their best:
While people with arthritis may worry that exercising will worsen joint pain, staying active can be an effective source of pain relief. Exercising helps boost the production of a natural lubricant inside the joints. The lubricant, known as synovial fluid, helps reduce friction to allow the joint to move more comfortably.
Increase Range of Motion
Joint stiffness is a common arthritis symptom. When the joints are stiff, it can be more difficult to straighten, bend, or rotate them through their normal range of motion. Regular use of the joints through stretching and exercising helps lessen this stiffness.
People with arthritis are about 2.5 times more likely to experience fall injuries compared to people without arthritis, in part because joint pain and stiffness can affect the way you walk. Exercise helps reduce the risk of falls by improving coordination and strengthening the stabilizing muscles crucial for balance.
Exercise can help strengthen the muscles around joints affected by arthritis. Strong muscles create support around the joint, like a brace, and help protect the joints from further damage. Further, strengthening muscles also helps to prevent bone loss.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Regular exercise burns calories and helps people with arthritis reach or maintain their ideal body weight. Weight matters for arthritis because extra pounds stress the joints and make moving more painful. Maintaining an ideal weight helps reduce symptoms and even prevent further joint damage.
Ways to Exercise With Arthritis
For people living with arthritis, the idea of jumping into a new exercise routine may seem daunting. Ease into an active lifestyle with low or no-impact exercises that you enjoy, such as those suggested below. Be sure to talk to your doctor or other healthcare provider to get the go-ahead to start a workout program.
Walking is a simple, budget-friendly way to start an exercise routine. It places minimal stress on the joints, but since it’s weight-bearing, it helps strengthen the muscles and bones. Wear supportive shoes for less joint stress, and choose flat, dirt walking paths rather than asphalt or concrete.
Whether you’re swimming laps or taking a water aerobics class, exercising in a pool is an arthritis-friendly workout. Water supports the body, which takes the pressure off sore joints while providing natural resistance that helps build muscle strength. Try exercising in a heated pool with water between 83 and 90 degrees for optimal joint comfort.
Indoor cycling helps people with arthritis work up a sweat without straining their joints. The continuous pedaling motion helps reduce stiffness and pain by promoting the release of synovial fluid, which lubricates the joints. Some people with arthritis find recumbent bikes more comfortable than traditional upright bikes due to their reclined seating position.
Strength training helps people with arthritis build muscle and support their sore joints. Options for strength training include resistance bands, handheld weights, and bodyweight exercises. Consider working with a physical therapist or personal trainer for help designing an arthritis-friendly program.
Mind-body exercises like tai chi and yoga combine physical movements with breathing techniques. Their simple, gentle movements help people with arthritis improve flexibility, balance, and strength with minimal joint strain. Some tai chi or yoga classes are specifically designed for people with arthritis.
How Medicare Covers Arthritis
Exercise can help people with arthritis manage their symptoms, but medical care still plays a role. Medicare covers many of the medically necessary tests and treatments people with arthritis need to stay healthy. Here’s an overview of how the parts of Medicare cover arthritis.
Original Medicare (Part A and Part B)
- Doctor visits related to arthritis
- Durable medical equipment, such as walkers and wheelchairs
- Physical therapy to ease pain or stiffness
- Occupational therapy to maintain function
- Surgeries, such as joint replacement
- Pain management services
Medicare Advantage (Part C)
Medicare Advantage is a privately managed alternative to Original Medicare. It’s required to cover the same Part A and Part B services listed above, but some plans cover additional benefits that are useful for people with arthritis. Extra benefits could include:
- Gym memberships and fitness programs
- Transportation to medical appointments
- Over-the-counter medications
- Acupuncture for arthritis symptoms
Some Medicare Advantage insurers offer Special Needs Plans (SNPs) for people with rheumatoid arthritis. SNPs provide tailored benefits and care coordination to help members stay healthy.
Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D)
Part D adds drug coverage to Medicare. It’s often bundled into Medicare Advantage Plans and is sold separately for people with Original Medicare. Part D plans may help pay for prescription drugs consumers take at home to manage arthritis, such as:
- Prescription pain medications
- Prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Immunosuppressant drugs
Putting It All Together
Medicare is a valuable source of health coverage for people with arthritis. It covers many medically necessary treatments, including physical therapy, medications, and surgeries, and helps make arthritis care more affordable. However, enjoying an active lifestyle and maintaining a healthy body weight also play a role in treating arthritis.
Regular exercise helps people with arthritis manage joint pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. Low or no-impact exercises are typically a good place to begin, but remember to get clearance from your doctor before starting any workout routine.