People with arthritis can sometimes face a dilemma: They know that activity is good for their mind and body, yet their painful or stiff joints may rule out intense forms of exercise like running or biking.
Fortunately there are two types of exercise that are uniquely suited to those with arthritis pain: yoga and tai chi.
Both yoga and tai chi are based on slow, steady movements paired with breathing and mindfulness. And both are very safe for people of any age or in almost any condition.
It’s not uncommon to see a group of people in the park practicing tai chi together, but it can be done in a group or alone. It’s an accessible activity for just about any person in any setting. Tai chi involves flowing, deliberate moves—usually in a standing position—as well as focused and rhythmical breathing.
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Research findings suggest that practicing tai chi may improve balance and stability in older adults and those with Parkinson’s, reduce pain from knee osteoarthritis, help people cope with fibromyalgia and back pain, and promote quality of life and mood in people with heart failure and cancer.
Yoga is similar to tai chi in that it emphasizes deliberate movement and breathing, but it encompasses poses from a sitting or lying position as well as standing. It also incorporates a strong emphasis on meditation and relaxation.
Research suggests that yoga may:
- Reduce low back pain and improve function
- Improve quality of life
- Reduce stress
- Lower heart rate and blood pressure
- Help relieve anxiety, depression, and insomnia
- Improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility
As for yoga's effects on arthritis, a large study found that women with rheumatoid arthritis and knee osteoarthritis both benefited from an 8-week yoga program that was modified to their abilities. They improved significantly in physical and mental health measures, compared with study participants who received no yoga instructions.1
There are several types of yoga and some types may include poses that are not a good match for those with painful joints or limited range of motion. If you’re interested in trying yoga, check with your doctor first. Also, look for an instructor who has experience with leading yoga for those with chronic conditions or other limitations.
- Yoga in Sedentary Adults with Arthritis: Effects of a Randomized Controlled Pragmatic Trial. J Rheumatol. 2015 Jul; 42(7): 1194–1202.
Photo: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases