Arthritis causes pain, stiffness, structural joint damage, bone density loss and muscle weakness, all of which can limit mobility. Current evidence supports the effectiveness and safety of aerobic and strength training for adults with osteoarthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis. In fact, exercise can improve symptoms without causing harmful or damaging your joints.

Types of Exercise

Include exercises from each of these categories for maximum benefit.

Range of motion. Range of motion exercises put your joint through a full range of motion once or twice without holding the end position. There's evidence that performing range of motion exercises in the evening can reduce morning stiffness in patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Stretching. Unlike range of motion exercises, stretching holds sustained gentle tension on soft tissue and muscles. Stretching counteracts the stiffness that accompanies arthritis.

Strength or resistance training. Weight bearing exercises such as walking or lifting weights can increase muscle strength and may even slow the rate of joint damage in arthritis patients. Strength training also prevents, or reduces the rate of, bone density loss. Include resistance training at least two times each week. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (DHHS) guidelines for adults with disabilities recommends that each strength session include eight to 10 exercises for different muscle groups and should allow completion of at least one set of 10 to 15 repetitions.

The DHHS also advocates 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

Safe Upper Body Exercises

Certain Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi movements stretch your upper body without putting undue weight on your arms or shoulders, and exercising in the water provides safe resistance training. Walking on a level surface helps build strength. Wii Fit programs include yoga and balance exercises that improve your range of motion. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability provides a list of numerous exercise videos you can follow at home. Many include upper body workouts you can do while sitting if needed.

Here are a few other safe and simple upper body exercises.

  • Shoulder shrugs
  • Standing wall pushups
  • Head tilts and turns
  • Shoulder blade squeezes

If you're experiencing a bout of inflammation, put your muscles through at least one complete range of motion and avoid stretching until the inflammation subsides. Check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.