If you have osteoarthritis, the ”wear and tear” form that can affect knees, shoulders and other joints, you’ve got company. An estimated 27 million people in the U.S. have it, and your chances of getting it increase with age.
One key to living well with osteoarthritis is being more active. While “Go, exercise!” may be the last thing you want to hear when you have OA, experts say that it really can help. Too little movement makes stiffness worse, while boosting movement improves joint function, strength and endurance. And as your muscles strengthen, your risk of falls—and fractures—declines, because your joints are better protected.
According to the CDC, physical activity can reduce pain and improve physical functioning in adults with arthritis by about 40 percent. But one in three adults with arthritis are inactive. Expert also say that you can actually reduce your arthritis symptoms by participating in a disease management education program. However, only one in 10 adults have participated in this type of program.
So, a little exercise and a little education can translate to better, less painful movement and functioning—but of course, you need a plan. If you’re motivated, check out our picks of the best mobile apps, websites and classes designed specifically for people with OA; most of these include exercises along with a disease management component.
Walk With Ease
An Arthritis Foundation program, the Walk with Ease app is available for download to iPhone, iPad and Android devices; click here for those links. You can also get help on your computer here. How does it work? You set physical activity goals by creating a contract with yourself; then you track your walking and your progress. You can link to your Fitbit and import Fitbit activity data, too. To get the most out of the program, use the app with the Walk with Ease guidebook, which has customized routines and exercises (download the Guidebook to your Kindle or Kindle mobile app here). You can also learn to keep correct form by watching the program’s 16 online exercise videos—they’ll help you limber up and recover well from your walk. Click here to see a list of the videos, with links to each one. Here’s an example:
Track & React
Track & React is a mobile app meant for those with rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s proved to be useful for those with OA, as well. It’s put out by the Arthritis Foundation. Track & React lets you input your daily activities and symptoms in a secure environment, synch between the app and a web tool, set personalized goals and identify trends over time.
Active Living Every Day
The Active Living Every Day program was designed by the Cooper Institute’s behavioral scientists to help sedentary people get off the sofa and build a lifetime habit of staying active. There’s a range of options: You can take a 12-week course approved by the National Council on Aging that emphasizes a group-based problem-solving method to help you integrate physical activity into your daily living (click here for the course locator). Or you can take a course online independently using an ebook with online support (click here to download the book and support key).
Tai Chi for Arthritis
An ancient and graceful form of Chinese exercise, Tai Chi is low impact and easy on the joints. Research has shown that regular Tai Chi, an hour twice a week, can reduce pain noticeably. To help you put that to the test in your own life, the Arthritis Foundation posts Tai Chi for Arthritis videos online; the trio currently on the website include shoulder exercises, stretches of the spine and stretches of the neck:
Fit & Strong!
An 8-week class offered at locations in nine states, Fit & Strong! has demonstrated functional and physical activity improvements in people with OA. As a participant, you learn to incorporate physical activity into your everyday life by exercising three times a week for an hour each time. The program’s emphasis is on helping you to create a program tailored to your needs so that you can can continue your own personalized physical activity program after the class ends.
If you’re still not sure which activity is best for you, run through the Arthritis Foundation’s Simple Workout Routines. Brief articles give you information on how neck pain responds to exercise, how to do stretches of your chest for pain of the back and neck, along with swimming and walking routines for pain relief, circuit training, warm up and how to do two minutes of exercise to help relieve pain.