Excellent joint health aids in faster recovery after an injury or surgery. It also limits the natural wear and tear that happens over time. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Healthy joints allow you to move freely, jump, run, twist and turn, and enjoy an active life without pain and discomfort. Practising certain types of exercises keep your joints in good shape and help ward off problems later in life.
Research shows that low-impact aerobic exercises can be particularly beneficial. They help lubricate joints and strengthen surrounding muscles, reducing pain and stiffness.
Here are seven joint-friendly and low-impact exercises to help maintain the mobility, stability and flexibility of your joints' ligaments and muscles.
1. Start walking more
A 2022 study by Baylor College of Medicine researchers suggested that walking for exercise may be an effective treatment to reduce knee pain and slow damage within the joint. It's ideal for people with arthritis, helping reduce pain, stiffness and inflammation.
Walking is also an ideal post-injury or surgery workout if you get the green light from your physiotherapist or doctor. Make sure to wear proper shoes, and start slowly on flat, even surfaces. Walk for 15 minutes per day, and you can increase it to 20-25 minutes as your body acclimates to the activity.
2. Practise yoga and tai chi
Tai chi ensures your body is in constant motion. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Tai chi is a terrific low-impact workout. It can help maintain or increase flexibility and the full range of motion healthy joints require. The gentle poses with mindful movements can also increase coordination and balance. The bonus is deep breathing which helps improve body awareness and reduce stress.
Yoga creates a similar effect. A 2013 study published in the Clinical Journal of Pain shows that yoga has improved mood and relieved fatigue and pain among women with rheumatoid arthritis who practised yoga twice a week for six weeks.
3. Take up swimming
Swimming and other exercises performed in water can help relieve joint pain, injury or post-surgery recovery. Water minimizes gravity and helps support body weight, reducing joint stress and stiffness. It also helps increase flexibility, range of motion, strength and cardiovascular fitness.
A March 2017 study in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found that 16 weeks of water-based exercises in women with rheumatoid arthritis led to significant improvements in joint pain compared to land-based aerobic exercises.
4. Ride a bicycle
Some people enjoy exercising with their loved ones, who can also bring out their competitive sides. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Aside from improving cardiovascular fitness and building endurance, cycling can reduce stiffness and increase range of motion and leg strength. Find the correct bike for your body and choose one with good stability and handling. Don safety gear to avoid injury.
A stationary bike is also a good option. Results from a 2021 study published in Clinical Rehabilitation suggest that stationary cycling exercise may relieve pain and improve sports function in knee osteoarthritis – the most common form of arthritis – although more research is needed.
5. Try Pilates
Pilates focuses on activating core muscles, notably the abdominals, lower back, hips and thighs. It can improve flexibility and stability and strengthen muscle control, easing pressure on your hips and other joints.
Pilates can also help manage pain from chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and possibly help with rehabilitation. However, if you have concerns about your health, please consult your doctor.
6. Exercise with an elliptical machine
Studies by Clinical Rehabilitation suggest elliptical trainers may help with rehabilitation from injury or surgery because the intensity can be high without putting much pressure on the joints.
Most machines have a set of stationary handles for better stability. However, some ellipticals are also equipped with handles that exercise the arms, chest, and shoulders at the same time, turning your session into a full-body, calorie-burning workout.
7. Do a weight-bearing workout
A plank is a type of exercise that puts your core and whole body to work and improve bone strength. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Weight-bearing exercises improve bone density, making joints less prone to damage from minor falls.
While squats and lunges build the muscles around your leg, hip joints, and knee and ankle joints, push-ups and rows target and strengthen the surrounding shoulder joints.
Core muscle exercises, such as sit-ups, planks and side-planks, can also help alleviate wear and tear on joints. They also strengthen the abdomen and back, taking some pressure off the spine and hip joints and helping prevent joint damage and reduce pain.
A 2018 study published in the Arthritis Care & Research journal concludes combining aerobic and resistance exercises can improve aerobic capacity, endurance, and strength in older adults with rheumatoid arthritis.
However, speaking to a fitness expert is a good idea if you're new to strength training. If you have arthritis or joint pain, work with your physical therapist or personal trainer who can guide you during weight training.
Equipping yourself with medical protection may be ideal, so you can seek regular medical advice before starting the types of exercises meant for the joints. This is important if you have any chronic conditions affecting the joints or are recovering from an injury or surgery. If you are injured, you can count on financial support and lift some pressure off your shoulders while you focus on recovery.
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