If you have arthritis, you know that exercise is an important tool in managing your condition. But when joints are aching and stiff, it may feel like exercise is out of your reach. In fact, 24% of adults with diabetes report doing no leisure time physical activity at all, according to a survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.1
Before you give up on staying active, remember that there’s a form of exercise that you’ve most likely been doing every day since you were about a year old: walking.
Walking is an accessible, low-impact activity that can help relieve arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and swelling—this is true even if you have arthritis in a weight-bearing joint like your knee or hip. Also, if you have concerns about your neck or back, gentle stretching and slow walking is a wonderful way to begin the process of stretching and strengthening your spine.
If you’re not doing any exercise right now, start with walking. Walking is the best way to start the process of going from inactivity to activity.
Why walking is the first step to better health
Here are some of the advantages of walking:
- Since it is our natural form of locomotion as humans, you already know how to do it. No need for a class or training, you can just jump right in.
- Walking doesn’t cost anything or require special equipment or a gym membership. You can start in your own neighborhood or a nearby park. If weather or safety are concerns, go to a mall or some other public place.
- Walking utilizes almost all the major muscle groups in our body so we can maintain motion, balance, and posture. Fast walking can even our arm and shoulder muscles.
- Walking burns calories and can help you maintain a healthy weight. This has an added bonus, because losing extra weight is one of the main ways to relieve arthritis pain.
- As you walk more and become more active, you’ll become more confident in your physical abilities. This can benefit your emotional health, and your social health can improve as well as you feel more prepared to be “out and about” to visit with friends and family.
Tips for getting started with walking
Ideally, you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. This equals 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
But if you’re inactive now, start slow and easy and add on walking time and pace gradually. For example, if you can walk for 15 minutes after dinner this week, aim to walk for 20 minutes next week. The goal is to stay committed to activity. Map out a route that brings you back home after achieving your distance goal. Small victories will build confidence.
Also, if you have pain or weakness in a weight-bearing joint like your hip or knee, you may find that trekking poles give you the stability and pain relief you need to walk more easily.
Even if walking is too painful or difficult for you, don’t fear—there are still ways you can be physically active. You can do simple stretching and strength-building exercises at home. Or give water therapy a try, where the warm water can relax aching joints and take the pressure of gravity off them.
Finally, a little muscle soreness is fine after exercising and will decrease as you become more active, but stop right away if you feel sudden, sharp pain in your arthritis-affected joint while exercising.
- Barbour KE, Helmick CG, Theis KA, Murphy LB, Hootman JM, Brady TJ, Cheng YJ. Prevalence of doctor-diagnosed arthritis and arthritis-attributable activity limitation-United States, 2010-2012. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2013; 62(44): 869–873.