Exercise suitable for people with arthritis

There are three main types of exercise for people with arthritis:

  • range of movement
  • strengthening
  • aerobic exercise 

A good exercise programme will include all three. An appropriate programme will depend on the type and severity of your arthritis, and your general level of fitness. The difference between the types of exercise is explained below, and our Exercise and arthritis booklet demonstrates some of the more common range of movement and strengthening exercises. 

Range of movement 

Range of movement exercises form the backbone of every exercise programme. Everyone should do range of movement exercises, as they help to maintain flexibility and are important for good posture and strength, which is especially important for people with arthritis. The exercises involve taking joints through their comfortable range of movement and then easing them just a little further. 

They can be done even when in pain and during a flare-up. Range of movement exercises should be done twice a day, every day. Take each joint through its range of movement between 3 and 10 times each session, building up the number of repetitions slowly. 


Strengthening exercises are important for everyone, especially people with arthritis, because they help strengthen the muscles which move, protect and support your joints. Many people become less active when they develop arthritis because of pain and the fear of causing damage. This usually leads to muscle wastage and weaker joints. By developing strong muscles, joints become more stable, and tasks such as walking and climbing stairs become easier. 

Strengthening exercises encourage the body to work harder than normal. Start slowly, building up the number of repetitions. As the muscles get used to doing more, they get stronger. The type of exercises you do depends on which type of arthritis you have, which joints are affected and the severity of your condition. Check with a doctor or physiotherapist before starting a new routine. 

Resistance work

Strengthening exercises can sometimes be called ‘resistance exercises’ – this is because resistant bands or weights can be added to the routine to strengthen muscles, by making them work harder. This doesn’t necessarily mean pumping iron. If exercising in a gym, there should be a range of resistance equipment and weights to choose from, and instructors are on hand to give advice. If exercising at home, you can use household items such as cans of food, bottles and bags of sugar.


Aerobic means exercise that raises your heart rate.

It helps to build stamina, control and reduce weight, improves sleep, strengthens bones (thus protecting against osteoporosis), and reduces depression. The moderate exertion used when exercising should bring about slight breathlessness and an increased pulse. Feeling more than that may mean you are doing too much.

The best forms of aerobic exercise for people with arthritis are walking, cycling, swimming and doing the housework.