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Got arthritis? Get moving!

When your knees are throbbing and your hips are sore, hitting the gym may be the last thing that comes to mind. Yet, with most cases of arthritis, that’s exactly what you need to do. Research shows that exercise is essential for managing the disease.

Careful and moderate exercise offers a wealth of benefits to people with arthritis, says the Arthritis Foundation, including reduced joint pain and stiffness, increased flexibility, a better mood and maybe even a better future. Regular exercise helps adults with knee osteoarthritis cut their risk of disability nearly in half, the Centers for Disease Control reports.

Move it before you lose it

Talk with your healthcare provider before you begin any new exercise. He or she can help you choose beneficial activities based on your health history and fitness level. The keys to a successful exercise habit are to start slowly and find comfortable and enjoyable activities. A well-rounded exercise routine works to improve three fitness areas:

  1. Flexibility. The Arthritis Foundation suggests starting with stretching exercises to improve flexibility, increase your range of motion, help you perform daily tasks and reduce the risk of joint injury. Tai chi and yoga are excellent ways to improve flexibility. Practice stretching exercises every day.
  2. Strength. Resistance training like lifting weights or using resistance bands to build stronger muscles helps take stress and strain off your joints. If you’re not ready for weight training, try a pool-based workout. Water provides resistance, and pool exercise may be a good choice if you have severe pain or limited strength. Try to do strength-training exercises every other day.
  3. Aerobic. Activities like biking, swimming and dancing that work both your heart and lungs help your blood vessels and muscles work more efficiently, improving your endurance so you don’t tire as easily. Weight-bearing aerobic activities like walking also improve bone strength, especially important if you take glucocorticoids for your arthritis, which can weaken bones. Improve your endurance by working up to 30 minutes a day three or four days a week.

Don’t let arthritis keep you from being active. Explore various activities to find ones you enjoy. Start slowly and increase your exercise duration and intensity as you get stronger.