Seven gentle exercises to ease stiff joints

senior couple on country bike...
senior couple on country bike...

When you have arthritis and you're feeling stiff and achy, exercise can be the last thing you want to do – yet keeping active is one of the best ways to keep your joints healthy and supple.

See also: Feeling swollen and achy? It could be down to inflammation

See also:
Seven foods to ease the pain of arthritis

Gentle, low-impact exercise, such as walking and swimming, combined with light weight training is recommended by Arthritis Research UK, who suggest working out for 30 minutes five times a week.
Just be careful to listen to your body. If your arthritis flares up, you may want to go easier the next day.

Here are a few gentle exercises to try – but as ever, it's a good idea to speak to your GP before embarking on a new fitness regime.

Chair yoga
If you suffer from arthritis in their lower extremities (hip, knee, ankle or foot), chair yoga can be a good way to reduce pain and improve suppleness. That's the findings of researchers from Florida Atlantic University, who looked at the effects of chair yoga on pain and physical function in older adults with osteoarthritis. They found that those who did chair yoga for eight weeks had reduced pain, which continued for about three months after the program ended, as well as reduced fatigue.

This gentlest form of yoga is particularly kind to joints and involves performing yoga poses from the comfort of a chair. You could try doing a chair yoga DVD, or look for a group near you.

Yoga and Pilates are particularly good for improving core strength and helping to keep your back strong and supple. You can do a Pilates DVD at home, but because many of the movements are precise and it's easy to get them wrong and end up exacerbating a problem, it's a good idea to go along to a class if you can. That way, the instructor give you feedback on your technique.

Swimming is a great choice for anyone with joint problems as the water supports your weight and helps to keep your joints supple. If you push yourself, you'll burn calories and give your heart and lungs a good workout too. Swimming improves the posture and works more than two-thirds of the body's muscles, exercising your legs, stomach and arms. Just take care to avoid breast stroke, which can put excessive strain on arthritic knees and hips according to Arthritis Research UK.

Aqua aerobics
Lots of gyms and leisure centres offer aqua aerobics, and the exercise can be a good option for those with arthritis. Working out in water provides gentle resistance without putting a strain on your joints. Just take care to choose a well-heated pool – if the water is too cold it can worsen aching and inflamed joints.

Weight training
Regular light weight training can strengthen your muscles, improve tone and reduce your risk of pain and stiffness. As with any exercise, it's best to start slowly and build up as you improve. Remember to warm up your muscles properly before you work out, and stretch properly afterwards.

While you can do weight training at home – with hand weights and a strength training DVD – it's a good idea to get professional guidance in the gym or from a personal trainer when you're starting out. A fitness professional will be able to check your technique and make sure you have the correct posture. They can also show you the best way to lift ways while sitting on a fitness ball, which is a great way to develop your core strength at the same time.

Tai Chi
With its gentle flowing movements, Tai Chi is a great choice for anyone with arthritis. The movements can help to strengthen and relieve tension in the joints. A study from Tufts Medical Center in Boston, US, found that Tai Chi can specifically reduce the pain and physical impairment of people with severe knee osteoarthritis. If you don't have a class near you, you could always invest in a Tai Chi for Arthritis DVD.

There's a growing body of evidence to show that regular low-intensity cycling can help reduce the pain of osteoarthritis. If you suffer with stiff joint stiffness in your hips or knees, consider buying an exercise bike. Cycling gives you a good cardiovascular workout without stressing weight-bearing joints, helping you to burn calories and keep your weight healthy.

If you have become inactive because of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid pain, you may have developed balance problems. Working out on a stationary bike means you're less likely to fall or injure yourself. Start slowly and exercise for five-minutes at a comfortable pace three times a week, and then build up until you can pedal for 30 minutes five times a week.