Living your best life with arthritis.

Exercise, arthritis and osteoporosis

Girl Stretching

Photo Credit: By marin/

The research literature on exercise is growing, and it is now generally accepted that there are many benefits of exercise for arthritis and osteoporosis. General benefits of exercise include improved heart and lung function, weight control, and improvement of self-esteem and self-confidence.

Before starting an exercise program, at home or at a gym, it is important to speak to a health professional trained in exercise for arthritis and osteoporosis. They can help you to design an exercise program that will be both safe and effective.

Before, during and after exercise:

  • It is important to warm-up and cool down before and after exercising. Use range of motion or heat.
  • If you are still experiencing pain more than two hours after exercise – you may have done too much.
  • Use slow, planned movements when doing ROM and strengthening exercises.
  • Practice in front of a mirror until you feel confident you are doing the exercise as demonstrated by your health professional.

Types of Exercise

  1. Range of Motion (ROM): These exercises help maintain or increase joint flexibility, reduce stiffness and pain and helps one perform daily activities. ROM should be done twice a day. If morning stiffness is present, having a warm shower helps loosen joints before exercising. Some helpful hints include:
    • each joint should go through 3-10 repetitions in the morning and evening.
    • each time the ROM should take about 10-15 minutes in total.
    • for inflammatory arthritis’s if your joints are inflamed just do the ROM through one repetition to keep the joints mobile.
  2. Muscle Strengthening Exercises: These exercises should be done 2-3 times per week, 8-10 repetitions per exercise. When you are able to complete the full set of exercises, you can add weights and/or increase the number of repetitions.
    1. Isometric: Involves contracting a muscle without any movement of the joints. These type of exercises are great because they can be done each day, any time, any place. These types of exercises maintain muscle size and improve muscle tone, develop muscle strength that is needed to carry out weight bearing activities and develop strength for joint surgery.
    2. Isotonic: Involves both muscle resistance and joint movement. Because joints are involved, extra care is needed to perform these exercises correctly and note how the body responds to these exercises. This type of exercise increases endurance, improves blood flow, promotes strong bones and cartilage and maintains or improves muscle strength.
  3. Cardio/Fitness: should be done 3-4 times per week, 20-30 minutes without stopping. When just starting this type of exercise, work your way up to this level over a period of 4-6 weeks.

There are both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing aerobic exercises. What is most important is that you find an exercise or activity that suits you. In other words, an activity you enjoy. Weight bearing exercise is better for prevention of osteoporosis, but may be more difficult if you have arthritis of the weight-bearing joints.

All exercise should include a warm-up and cool-down portion. The part of the exercise in between is increasing your heart rate and maintaining that rate for 20 minutes. If you are just starting an exercise program it takes about 5 weeks to build up your heart rate to the a good rate.

A good heart rate during aerobic exercise is between 60-70% of the heart rate maximum.

To find out what your range is:
Take 220 minus your age x .60 =
Take 220 minus your age x .70=

These two figures will give you the range of heart rate/minute during the aerobic part of your exercise program.

220 – 50 years= 170  |  170 x .60= 102
220 – 50 years= 170  |  170 x .70= 119

Therefore, the heart rate this person wants to maintain during the aerobic part of the exercise is a rate between 102 and 119.

***Whether range of motion, isometric, isotonic or aerobic exercises it is important to consult with your doctor, physiotherapist or fitness consultant to ensure that you are exercising safely.***

Types of weight-bearing aerobic exercises:

  • walking/hiking
  • cross-country ski machines and elliptical trainers
  • stair-stepping machines
  • exercise classes
  • exercise videos for use in the home

Types of non-weight-bearing aerobic exercises

  • biking
  • rowing
  • swimming
  • water aerobics: check your local recreational centre for water exercises specifically designed for people with limited mobility and/or arthritis

Remember to note how you feel during and after the exercise. If you are in pain more than two hours after, you may need to do less the next time. This allows you to gradually develop your strength and length of exercise time while maintaining joint and muscle safety.

One final and important point about exercise: One must keep up exercising as improvements are lost if exercise is not done on a regular basis.