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Living with arthritis? Water workouts can provide relief

A laughing woman standing in a pool.

Joint-friendly water exercises can help ease arthritis pain.

If you could invent the perfect exercise for arthritis, it might let you strengthen your muscles without lifting weights, improve your flexibility without causing too much pain, and run and jump with no chance of falling.

If that sounds good to you, then take a dive into water workouts. According to the Arthritis Foundation and the American Physical Therapy Association, exercising in water can improve fitness while relieving arthritis pain and stiffness. Water exercise offers:

  • Buoyancy to support your joints.
  • Resistance to help build muscle strength.
  • Improved balance and a reduced risk of falls.

Plus, a heated swimming pool may offer warmth to improve your circulation.

On your mark, get set, splash!

Many swim centers, YMCAs and community pools offer water exercise classes tailored for people with arthritis. Most classes take place in the shallow end of the pool, so it's OK if you're not a strong swimmer. If you're just starting out, choose a class that matches your fitness level and goals.

Some classes might focus on gentle stretching and improving range of motion. Others provide a more vigorous aerobic workout. Chances are there's a good fit for you.

You can also try a simple exercise like water walking: In chest- or waist-high water, just walk forward and backward. When you're ready, increase the intensity by speeding up or mixing in gentle jogging intervals.

Get geared up

All you really need to start is a swimsuit. (Look for one that's easy to get on and off when dry or wet.) But you might find a few other items helpful as well:

  • Water shoes can give you extra traction on land and in the pool.
  • Webbed water gloves or an inflated water ball can create extra resistance.
  • A flotation vest or foam noodle can keep you afloat in deeper water, where you might have a greater range of motion.

Play it safe

Whatever watery workout you choose, make these safety steps a priority:

  • Start slowly and build up to longer, more intense workouts over time.
  • Never push your body through pain during any exercise. You might feel a little stiff or sore at first after a new workout. But talk with your doctor if pain doesn't go away with time and rest.
  • Stay hydrated. In the pool, you might not notice that you're sweating. It's still a must to drink plenty of water.

Reviewed 9/17/2022

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