Simple tips for staying active and mobile with osteoarthritis

Physical activity is a proven strategy for managing the pain of osteoarthritis. Here are 5 ways to get started — and make it stick.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When your joints are stiff and painful, moving your body can feel like the last thing you want to do. But guess what: It may be the most helpful thing you can do to ease osteoarthritis symptoms, and could even slow the progression of the disease. Here's how to get the into the rhythm.

Consult with a pro. There's no one-size-fits-all way to manage osteoarthritis pain. That's why a physical therapist can be a valuable part of your team. With a tailored exercise plan, you can develop the flexibility, strength and coordination you need to minimize pain and function at your best.

Be a goal-setter. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about steps you can take to improve your quality of life, then break them down into approachable chunks you can tackle starting today. Want to walk 30 minutes a day most days of the week? Start with 10 minutes today.

Play around to find what you like. How's this for commonsense wisdom: You'll get more out of being active if you enjoy it. That means doing something that's both fun for you and that feels good for your joints. Water aerobics, tai chi and yoga may all have benefits, from improving your balance and flexibility to strengthening muscles and burning calories.

Mix it up. Variety doesn't just help prevent boredom. It's also likely to give you the best symptom management for your osteoarthritis. The key ingredients: low-impact aerobic exercise to improve your stamina and help with weight management, plus resistance exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your joints.

Appreciate all the benefits of an active lifestyle. True, weight loss may be an important goal for many people with osteoarthritis. But it's far from the only reason to move. In fact, people with osteoarthritis of the knee who lost 10 percent of their body weight through a combination of diet and exercise were twice as likely to be pain-free (or nearly so) as those who lost a similar amount of weight through diet or exercise alone.

Taking note of the other benefits you get from being active can only add to your motivation to stick with it. Exercise can have potent effects on easing the symptoms of depression, can help you sleep better and can be a healthy way to socialize with friends.

But while exercise and movement are helpful for a majority of people with osteoarthritis, there are some people who seem to get worse with physical activity. If you think this is true for you, talk to your doctor.

Nov. 01, 2018 See more In-depth