The Best Exercise For Joint Pain

When patients come to me for help with weight loss, one of the things we talk about is exercise.  To be clear, exercise is NOT intended to burn tons of calories and tip calorie balance into the red.  90% of weight loss is related to making better food choices.

That having been said, our bodies NEED exercise.  Exercise increases energy, improves cardiovascular fitness, helps with sleep, decreases problems with constipation, and elevates the mood.  You feel better when you exercise.  Period.

Frequently I hear that patients can’t exercise because their joints hurt.  What do I tell people when they say they can’t exercise?  What is the best exercise for joint pain?


First of all, it’s important to realize that exercise DECREASES joint pain.  Sitting still and being sedentary increases inflammatory markers.  The more you move, the less you hurt.

That being said, it’s true that jogging probably isn’t the best exercise for folks with back or knee or hip pain.  What are the best options for exercise for people who have joint pain?


Hands down, swimming is the best form of exercise for people with joint pain.  It burns LOTS of calories, is fantastic at improving cardiovascular fitness, and strengthens all the muscles because every movement you make is resisted.

Best of all, if you are obese, the water will support your joints.  The water takes gravity and impact out of the equation so exercise can be relatively pain-free.

If you don’t know how to swim there are plenty of adult learning courses available at the YMCA and other fitness centers that have pools.  Water aerobics is also a good option if swimming laps doesn’t appeal to you.


How’s your stress?  If you struggle with stress AND have problems with joint pain, yoga may be the best choice for you.  Flexibility (both mental and physical) are good goals to have, and yoga is a great option to help meet those goals.

If you think yoga is about turning yourself into a human pretzel, think again.  Yoga, practiced properly, is about becoming one with your body, loving yourself fully in the present moment, and encouraging yourself to reach just a bit farther today than you went yesterday.

So what if you can’t touch your toes? You are where you are today, and that’s OK.  With persistence you’ll get there.


If you don’t want to get into a swimsuit, no-impact gym equipment like the elliptical treadmill and stationary bike are easy to use.  Depending on which joints bother you, try out a few different pieces of equipment and see which exercises cause the least discomfort.

If you’re coming up empty for ideas, a session with a personal trainer can be a good investment.  Most gyms nowadays have personal trainers available for a small fee, and many of them offer a free session when you join.

It doesn’t really matter what form of exercise you choose.  30 minutes of activity most days per week will decrease your joint pain and improve your cardiovascular fitness.  Find something you love to do, and go do it!

QUESTION: Do you have joint pain?  Do you find that exercise helps?


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