Think arthritis dooms you to walking (boring!) and water aerobics (so 1995!)? Not so. Check out this guide to the best, safest, hippest exercises for joints.
Intrigued by hot yoga? Curious about Zumba? Don’t let a little arthritis keep you from dabbling in the latest fitness trends: Most experts say you can—and should—try these exercises for joints, with a few adjustments and the OK of your doctor.
“The bottom line is you can exercise, which in turn will help you manage your arthritis,“ says Dr. Doreen M. Stiskal, chair and associate professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
Stiskal notes several ways to know if an exercise is for you: “If you can only tolerate 10 minutes in an hour-long class, it’s too difficult. And if in the 48 hours after the class, you’re so sore you can’t move or you’re limping, you did too much.”
Below are descriptions of some of the hottest exercises for joints, the pros and cons, and ways to modify them if you have arthritis.
Zumba is a dance fitness program incorporating styles such as hip-hop, samba, salsa, meringue, even belly dancing.
Pros. The program has eight variations, including Zumba Fitness; Zumba Gold, geared to seniors; and Aqua Zumba, a water-based workout. “Zumba Fitness offers a breadth and depth of exercise,” says Stiskal. Plus, if you’re not sure you want to commit to a class, DVDs can give you a sneak peek. “Try a DVD out before trying a class,” says Stiskal. “The advantage is that you can start and stop, or only work out for 15 minutes at first and work up to more.” You can play a section over and over to practice the proper form.
Cons. “Zumba Fitness includes lots of squats, lunges, and wide stances that can put pressure on your joints,”, says Stiskal.
Qualifications: “If your doctor okays it, try Zumba Fitness,” says Stiskal. “But it does have a lot of fast motion. If you have stiffness and pain, that fluidity may be very difficult.”
Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program that consists of high-intensity, fast-moving circuits of pull-ups, squats, weight lifting, running and more, done as quickly as possible in segments that last as long as 20 minutes.
Pros. “The program is one- on-one monitored by highly trained fitness professionals,” says Stiskal.
Cons. “Crossfit includes multiple joint movements, taxing the joints,” says Joshua Gellert, senior physical therapist at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who has not done weight lifting. “
Qualifications: “On an exercise spectrum, I would try this last,” says Stiskal. And if you do take the plunge, she says, “Work with a trainer to individualize the program for your arthritis.”
Ballet-inspired regimens like Bar Method and Pure Barre “combine Pilates, yoga, isometrics and stretching to tone muscle without adding muscle mass,” says Stiskal.
Pros. “This can be a nice gentle exercise to do,” says Stiskal. The classes are typically small, and can be calming yet challenging with a mind-body focus. “The exercises help muscles elongate and relax, and give you better posture.” Barre workouts are also available on DVDS. “A DVD can be a good option if you don’t have access to classes,” says Stiskal.
Cons. “You sometimes have to come up on your toes, which with arthritis can be uncomfortable,” says Stiskal. Some ballet poses, like those requiring that you turn your feet out, can be stressful on arthritic knees and hips. “Talk with your instructor about adapting such poses,” she says.
Qualifications. Classes are not standardized, says Stiskal, so check with the instructor before enrolling so that you are getting the true Barre method, not an aerobics class that also happens to use a ballet barre.
Pilates is a program of gentle stretching and exercises—sometimes using an apparatus called a reformer– designed to improve posture and strength, especially in the core muscles.
Pros. “Pilates has many levels and versions,” says Stiskal. “One-on-one instruction is an advantage for someone who wants a specific program designed for them.” While it’s better to work with an instructor to help you modify movements and perfect your form, Pilates DVDs can also be a safe option for home use.
Cons. Be careful of overstretching, says Stiskal: “Some joints can’t move fully in all directions. And when on the Pilates machines, avoid locking your knees: That pulls on the ligaments and capsule that provides joint stability.”
Qualifications. “Pilates is great as long as you have a good instructor who is aware of your health requirements,” says Gellert. “Be cautious if you have a history of back pain, and if something doesn’t feel good, don’t do it.”
Spin classes are workouts offered on stationary bikes. Usually an hour long, they begin with a warm-up, increase in intensity as the instructor takes you through a virtual bike route of climbs and flats, and end in a cool-down.
Pros. “Biking is one of the best exercises for people with arthritis, because it is low impact and the cyclical movement promotes lubricating fluid in the joints,” says Gellert.
Cons. “The intensity and cardiovascular demand may not be best for older people,” says Gellert. “But you can find spinning classes designed for that group.” YMCAs and other fitness centers offer such classes, often advertised online.
Qualifications. Let your instructor know about your arthritis. And consider attending the class for only 15 minutes at first, says Gellert: “Work up from there.”
Gyrotonics, which began in the 1960s, puts people through a series of yoga and Pilates-like exercises using a that uses a weight and pulley machine. The resistence provided by the pulley machine allows participants to stretch and strengthen muscles simultaneously, using continuous repetitive motions that have little impact on the joints.
Pros. The program can be done one on one or in small groups, says Gellert: “It’s highly supervised.”
Cons. “It requires a lot of balance and coordination,” says Gellert.
Qualifications. “Find an instructor who is certified and inform him of any health issues so that he can adjust the program,” says Gellert. Gyrotonic.com [LINK TO: http://www.gyrotonic.com, offers a directory to classes.
Hot yoga is any yoga done in a room to 95-100 F. A branded form of hot yoga is called Bikram Yoga, which includes a series of 26 poses.
Pros. “Any yoga promotes muscle flexibility,” says Gellert. “Starting yoga in a warm environment can help your muscles loosen for the [exercise] demands.”
Cons. “The heat places extreme demands on your cardiovascular system,” says Gellert.”
Qualifications. If you have high blood pressure or a heart condition, ask your doctor whether you can safely take hot yoga.