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Cindy Boggs Cindy Boggs

Cindy Boggs is an American Council on Exercise-certified fitness professional, corporate wellness presenter and author of the award winning book, CindySays ... "You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World." Send inquiries/comments to

Say what you want about the effectiveness of making solid commitments toward better health. We all struggle with staying on track and fighting the battle of the bulge. Each year brings new challenges, but if you're living with arthritis, the biggest challenge may be chronic pain. It's one thing to adjust busy schedules to try to cram in a little physical activity, but altogether another when that exercise leaves a person in worse shape than when they started.

There are many types of arthritis. The most common form is osteoarthritis (OA), which is a degenerative joint disease that breaks down cartilage and bone and causes pain and stiffness. It's associated with age and many years of wear and tear of the joints. Sometimes, those who've led the most active lives seem to wind up being the most affected. This fact leads people with arthritis to believe that activity is damaging. This is definitely not the case, but a little background first.

OA prevalence

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), states that this disease affects almost 14 percent of people ages 25 and older — about 27 million in the U.S. The joints most affected are the hands, feet, hips and knees. According to the CDC, OA is irreversible and treatment is focused on decreasing physical disability and pain. Inflammation is the underlying cause. OA is linked with low-grade inflammation of the synovial membrane causing synovitis. 

Move to ease the pain

Finding the right amount of load-bearing exercise is the key and it can get tricky. Too much, as well as too little, allows this disease to progress. While there are medications currently used to treat OA, most clinicians recommend exercise to counteract the effects and the discomforts of this disease. 

Studies by the CDC are clear that exercise has numerous benefits for those suffering from OA. They have analyzed various intensities of physical activity and emphasize that moderate intensity exercise including strength training can reduce both the inflammation and the harmful effects on joints. 

Muscle strengthening

Probably the most important finding to understand is that our joints need the help of strong muscles. Weak muscles put all the responsibility of weight bearing on the joint whereas strong muscles lessen the force on joints and prevent more wear and tear and injury.

Training guidelines

The following CDC and Arthritis Foundation recommendations help to assure those living with OA that they can and should remain physically active. 

  • Moderate intensity, low-impact activity such as walking, cycling, rowing and water exercise is the safest and most effective cardiovascular exercise,
  • Strength training with bands, body weight, free weight or machines at a moderate level helps support the bones and joints,
  • Regularity and recovery promotes healing and reduces discomfort,
  • A minimum of 150 minutes (2.5 hours) per week can be accomplished by scheduling 50 minutes three days a week on non-consecutive days,
  • Two days of muscle strengthening exercise is recommended on non-consecutive days starting with one set of 10 repetitions and progressing to two, then three sets of 10 repetitions.

Weight management is beneficial as a higher body mass is linked to OA. Non-weight bearing exercise is the best way to introduce physical activity. 

Consistent, progressive activity incorporating weight-bearing should be gradual with gentle movement being most important. Lack of physical activity is detrimental for those living with OA leading to joint stiffness, pain, decreased mobility, reduced range of motion, muscle weakness, general deconditioning and function. It's clear that finding the right amount of regular exercise leads to less pain, better mobility and a greater quality of life.

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