Arthritis and physical activity

Arthritis is a term given to a group of more than 100 conditions that involve pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints of the body.

Some of the more common types of arthritis include:

  • osteoarthritis — worsening joint disease
  • rheumatoid arthritis — inflammation in the joints
  • infectious arthritis — arthritis from an infection
  • juvenile arthritis — arthritis in those aged 16 or younger

How physical activity can help

Physical activity can help make it easier for you to complete everyday activities by:

  • reducing stiffness and pain
  • increasing your flexibility
  • strengthening the muscles around your joints
  • improving your overall fitness, energy levels and sense of wellbeing

Regular physical activity will:

  • increase bone strength (reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis)
  • help you reach and maintain a healthier weight
  • improve your balance, posture and coordination

Regular physical activity will also reduce your risk of developing:

Getting started

If you are not regularly active start with bouts of 10 minutes of exercise every day. You can gradually increase the amount of time you are active.


Talk to your GP or physiotherapist about getting started, to help avoid an injury.

You will have some joint discomfort when you start getting active. However, if you are in pain or feel discomfort for 2 hours or more after an activity, you may need to change your activity plan.

Other signs of overdoing it are:

  • feeling very tired all the time
  • decreased range of movement in a joint
  • increased joint swelling
  • continuing pain

If you have pain and have difficulty moving joints such as your knees and hips, try water-based activities like swimming.

To get the most benefits, you should be physically active at a moderate-intensity for at least 30 minutes a day on 5 days a week.

You will know you are doing moderate-intensity physical activity when:

  • your heart rate is raised
  • you're breathing faster but still able to carry on a conversation
  • you're sweating slightly
  • you're feeling warmer

You can count all moderate-intensity activities as long as they last at least 10 minutes.

Avoid vigorous activity during a flare-up but do not stop being active. A flare-up is when your symptoms become worse. You can continue low-impact activities such as walking. As the flare-up eases, gradually build your physical activity levels up again.

Which physical activity to choose

The best type of physical activity you can do is a combination of exercises that address:

  • flexibility
  • muscle strength
  • aerobic fitness

To improve your flexibility, try yoga, Tai Chi or pilates. If you are seeing a physiotherapist, you may also be given a flexibility exercise to do.

To strengthen your muscles, try using weights and resistance bands. The type of strengthening exercises you do will depend on which joints are affected and how severe your condition is.


Always check with your GP or physiotherapist before starting a new strength programme.

You can also try climbing stairs and carrying shopping. Try to include these in your activity plan 2 to 3 times a week, leaving a break in between days.

To improve your overall fitness, try an aerobic activity such as:

  • walking
  • cycling
  • swimming
  • water walking
  • aqua aerobics

Read more about exercising for your specific type of arthritis on Arthritis Ireland

HSE exercise videos 

Try our exercise videos at home

Page last reviewed: 30 January 2019
Next review due: 30 January 2022