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Benefits of exercise for arthritis

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Research shows that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis.

Physical activity helps broadly in two ways.

Improving symptoms

Firstly, exercise will help your arthritis by: (1) decreasing the pain in your joints and muscles (2) maintaining and increasing the flexibility of your joints and muscles (3) strengthening muscles - this will help take the load off your joints, and make the joints more stable (4) decreasing or relieving muscle tension - tension adds to the pain of arthritis and in the long term can lead to poor posture and joint deformity (5) improving your posture and balance - this will take weight off affected joints, and reduce your risk of falling.


Improving overall health

Secondly, regular exercise will improve your overall health. This means you will be able to do more in life, feel more in control of your arthritis and be better able to manage pain. In particular, exercise will: (1) improve your heart and lung fitness (2) help control weight and reduce body fat - this will also reduce the load on weight-bearing joints such as feet, knees and hips decrease stress (3) strengthen bones (4) improve your sleep (5) decrease fatigue and tiredness (6) create a feeling of general well-being (7) Improve mood


Types of exercises that are beneficial for arthritis

Not all forms of exercise are appropriate for every kind of arthritis. Before you start to exercise, it is important to ask your doctor, physiotherapist and healthcare team to help you develop a programme that will suit your type of arthritis, general health and lifestyle.

Generally, you will need to do a mix of three types of activities:

  1. flexibility exercises
  2. strengthening exercises
  3. aerobic exercises.

Examples of exercises that are good for arthritis

There are many activities that can be beneficial for people with arthritis. The best activities are those you find enjoyable and are convenient. Low-impact exercises, with less body weight or force going through your joints, are usually most comfortable. Examples of low-impact activities include:

  • walking - a simple way to increase fitness
  • exercising in water, such as hydrotherapy (with a physiotherapist), swimming or water exercise classes
  • strength training
  • tai chi, yoga and pilates – good for flexibility and strength, as well as relaxation and stress management
  • cycling
  • dancing - excellent for flexibility and fitness and also helps build stability in the joints
  • chair-based exercises.


Hydrotherapy or “water exercise” is a popular exercise for people with arthritis. The buoyancy of the water takes pressure off painful joints and you may find you can move more freely than you can on land. Warm water can also be soothing for sore muscles and stiff joints


How Ireland ranks for exercise?

Many of us perceive Ireland to be a very sporting nation with a thriving GAA and the popularity of team sports like rugby and soccer. Since the slowdown in the economy, we have seen more interest in sports like running, triathlons and cycling as people have more time on their hands and turn to sport to escape the doom and gloom of the recession. However the facts don’t stand up to this perception; we do not rank high when it comes to exercise and obesity.  According to a 2012 study in the The Lancet, a leading medical journal, Ireland is the seventh worst country in the world for exercise. Perhaps even more worrying, the study showed that Irish people exercise less than Americans, dispelling the myth that Americans have a bigger obesity problem than us. The study found that 53.2 per cent of Irish people fail to do sufficient exercise, compared to 40.5 per cent in America. It found that among Europeans, Greeks, Estonians and the Dutch are the most active. Malta (71.9 per cent) and Serbia (68.3 per cent) had the highest levels of inactivity amongst adults in Europe. The study concluded that lack of exercise is killing as many Irish people as smoking.


Physiotherapy service in Whelehans

Chartered Physiotherapist Sinead Brogan MISCP runs FlexPhysio Physiotherapy Service in the therapy rooms at Whelehans Pharmacy in Mullingar. Sinead has an Honours Physiotherapy degree and has experience  working in Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar and private practice in New Zealand, Australia and Ireland, treating a wide variety of musculoskeletal issues including acute and chronic sports injuries, repetitive strain and postural problems, spinal dysfunctions and pregnancy related issues. Sinead has also completed a Masters in Neuromuscular Physiotherapy in UCD. Sinead is interested in sports injuries, having worked with many Gaelic and rugby teams providing pitch-side cover. Sinead is a Stott Pilates instructor and teaches pre and post-partum pregnancy, beginners and intermediate Pilate’s classes. She is also a Trigger Point Dry Needling practitioner and uses this technique with great results.  Reduced physiotherapy rates for over 60’s and affiliated sport clubs. Contact Sinead at 083 1722171 or

Thank you to Arthritis Ireland for some statistics and information used in this article. Check or Locall 1890 252 846 for more information.


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