Want to protect your joints? Here's why you need to exercise

You can ease joint discomfort and stay supple by following the right fitness plan

If you have joint problems, such as arthritis, you might be scared that exercise will make things worse. But actually, the opposite is true: exercise helps keep joints flexible and stable, while inactivity can do more harm than good.

The benefits of exercise

Exercising strengthens the muscles that support, protect and move your joints. It improves range of movement, and can help you manage joint pain better. In a 2017 study of 10,000 people with osteoarthritis, researchers from the Southern University of Denmark found that regular exercise helped pain symptoms and improved quality of life.1 Another bonus is that exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight – being overweight puts additional pressure on joints.2

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Which exercise to try?

All of these sports are joint-friendly, so pick your favourite and get active:

1. Swimming Whatever your favourite stroke, swimming is a low-impact sport, which means it puts less direct force on joints. According to Swim England, 90% of your bodyweight is supported by the water.3

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2. Cycling Another low-impact sport, cycling is especially good for knee joints – the continuous motion helps lubricate them. And yes, stationary bikes count too!4 3. Walking A weight-bearing exercise, walking helps keep your bones strong and can soothe the pain and stiffness of arthritis. A report in Clinical Interventions in Ageing in 2006 found that participants with arthritis who walked three times a week for six weeks experienced less joint pain.5

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4. Yoga This low-impact but also weight-bearing exercise can relieve joint discomfort. A 2015 study, published in The Journal of Rheumatology, found that after eight weeks of yoga classes, participants with arthritis felt better, not just physically but mentally too.6

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5. Tai chi This ancient Chinese low-impact, weight-bearing exercise is worth trying, too. In a 2016 study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, people with knee osteoarthritis who practised tai chi twice a week for three months saw an improvement in their symptoms.7

Exercises to avoid

If you are experiencing joint pain, steer clear of anything high-impact in which both feet hit the ground with force – like running, aerobics, vigorous dancing, tennis and squash8 – as this can stress the joints.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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  1. Skou ST and Roos EM. Good Life with osteoarthritis in Denmark (GLA:D™): evidence-based education and supervised neuromuscular exercise delivered by certified physiotherapists nationwide. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28173795
  2. Arthritis Foundation. How fat affects arthritis. Available from: https://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/obesity-arthritis/fat-and-arthritis.php
  3. Swim England. Swimming is one of the best exercises for arthritis. Available from: http://www.swimming.org/justswim/exercises-for-arthritis/
  4. Arthritis Foundation. Biking is great for your joints. Available from: http://blog.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/biking-exercise-for-arthritis/
  5. Bruno M, et al. Effectiveness of two Arthritis Foundation programs: Walk With Ease, and YOU Can Break the Pain Cycle. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695175/
  6. Moonaz SH, et al. Yoga in sedentary adults with arthritis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25834206
  7. Wang C, et al. Comparative Effectiveness of Tai Chi Versus Physical Therapy for Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Trial. Available from: http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/2522435/comparative-effectiveness-tai-chi-versus-physical-therapy-knee-osteoarthritis-randomized
  8. Hunter DJ and Eckstein F. Exercise and osteoarthritis. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2667877/