Physical Activity

Choosing Arthritis-Friendly Activities

A young woman in a swimming pool

Did you know you're “feeding” your joints when you're active? Cartilage depends on the circulation caused by joint movement to stay hydrated, absorb nutrients and remove waste. Cartilage, ligaments, muscles and bone become stronger and more resilient with regular exercise. Physical activity and exercise actually help keep joints healthy and reduce pain.

Choose low- and no-impact exercises that won’t cause further wear to your already painful joints. Consider cycling, swimming, even in-line skating, and other activities during which you’re not coming down hard on your feet (like running) or pivoting and twisting joints (like basketball). This is important because knees absorb the greatest force of the impact.

Don‘t forget to listen to your body. It will tell you when you’re pushing your own limits too far.  (Source: Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation).


For people with arthritis, walking puts less stress on your joints and is considered to be much better and safer than running. Walking allows you to stretch your back and leg muscles and joints that can become stiff from sitting. Walking is also relatively inexpensive; all you need is a good pair of walking shoes that have flexible soles and provide adequate arch support. Another benefit of walking is that it can be done at almost any time in any place. If you have hip, knee, ankle or foot problems, you should confirm with your healthcare professional that this is an appropriate activity for you.

Water Exercise 

Water activities are helpful for people with pain because they are gentle, low impact activities that are easy on muscles, joints and bones. Water provides resistance, about 12 to 14 per cent more than on land. This resistance strengthens you, and also prevents you from making sudden movements, which prevents jarring your joints. You can start a water exercise routine by walking waist-deep in the pool, or by practicing floating on your back. Once you are comfortable in the water, you can try swimming laps.

You don’t have to be good at swimming to get the benefits. You can use a flotation device, hold the wall, or stay in the shallow end.

You can also take swimming lessons or water aerobics/aqua-fit classes at a community centre. Some are designed specifically for people with back pain, arthritis or fibromyalgia.


Like other forms of physical activity, yoga can cause the release of your body’s own painkillers called endorphins. Yoga typically combines physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. Yoga can strengthen your muscles, increase flexibility, reduce muscle tension and help you to relax. There are many types of yoga. Some can be very strenuous and not appropriate for bodies with joint damage. Look for a Restorative, Hatha, or Yin yoga class, or one designed for people with chronic pain or arthritis, or for seniors.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is sometimes referred to as “moving meditation” because practitioners move their bodies slowly, gently and with awareness, all while breathing deeply. Tai Chi may be an option for managing chronic pain and can improve your general health and peace of mind. Some more advanced Tai Chi poses may not be suitable, but most instructors will be able to guide you as to what is appropriate for your level.


As long as you stick to routes that aren’t too bumpy, cycling can be a great low-impact form of exercise. It can be fun and practical too — biking to do a local errand can help you fit in physical activity while still getting your chores done.

Cycling, whether done outdoors or on a stationary bicycle, strengthens muscles and is also a good cardiovascular workout for your heart and lungs. Adjust your seat height so that your knee is slightly bent when the pedal is at its lowest point. For those with a sore back, the seat and handlebars should be adjusted to ensure your back is not too stretched out. If you are using a stationary bicycle, a recumbent model can decrease back strain, as you will be sitting up while cycling. Cycling is an ideal endurance activity because it provides much-needed resistance; however, if you have knee problems, you should start slowly and use the least amount of resistance when cycling. A lower resistance can be achieved by ensuring your gears are at the lowest setting.

For more tips to help you keep moving, visit the Arthritis Society’s Staying Active online guide.