8 Ways to Exercise Without Causing Stress to Your Joints
Exercise is one of the primary ways you can improve your body's overall health. Studies show that exercise increases blood flow, enhancing the function of your cardiovascular system. It strengthens your lungs and your muscles, builds your physical stamina, and helps you sleep better at night. It can even lessen the symptoms of depression and fatigue. But for some people, the wrong kind of exercise can actually do more harm than good.
If you already suffer from joint weakness, joint pain, arthritis, or a similar condition, regular forms of cardiovascular exercise may not work for you. And if you're pregnant, you shouldn't do high-impact exercise that could put undue stress on your body. Discover 8 ways to exercise without causing stress to your joints and ligaments.
You probably guessed that this would be the top choice. Walking is low-impact exercise. It's completely free, no gym membership required. And you can do it anywhere—in your neighborhood, around your work building on lunch break, through the local mall, on your city's downtown sidewalks, or along the paths of a local park.
To increase the benefit you receive from walking, carry some light weights and swing your arms gently as you go. If you find yourself needing mental stimulation during the walk, bring along your phone and some earbuds so you can listen to podcasts or music. And of course, make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
Swimming is another low-impact, low-stress option. It doesn't strain your joints, and it can be incredibly relaxing as long as you're not doing fast laps. Swim at your own pace, on your own time, or find a local water aerobics class if you want a structured water workout and the support of peers.
As a more physically vigorous activity, cycling burns more calories that leisurely walking or slow swimming. It mimics the motion of jogging without the harsh, repetitive foot-on-pavement impact that joggers have to endure.
If you're nervous that cycling could exacerbate a condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or another type of joint ailment, consult with a doctor before trying this type of exercise. In most cases, as long as you're careful and you listen to your body, you'll be able to reap the benefits of a good cycling session.
4. Elliptical Workouts
Ellipticals are what you get when you cross a stationary exercise bike with a treadmill. Research shows that ellipticals are actually better for your joints than treadmills if you're looking to avoid joint stress and heavy impact.
Try a 15-20-minute workout with the elliptical and see how you feel afterward. You may find that a session on the elliptical, paired with a favorite TV show or podcast, leaves you feeling re-energized, refreshed, and ready to take on the next part of your day.
5. Strength Training
This one might seem counterintuitive. After all, wouldn't weights and workout machines be too hard on your joints? Not necessarily, if they're used correctly.
Consider this—when your muscles are stronger, your joints don't need to work as hard. Try some strength training under the supervision of a qualified instructor who understands your desire to exercise without causing stress to your joints.
Instead of a highly competitive or upper-level class, try a slower-paced yoga class that focuses on getting the form right and carefully stretching muscles. You'll find that yoga, in addition to calming the mind, also increases muscle strength, flexibility, and overall mobility.
Patients with fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis often notice improvement in their symptoms or a slow-down in disease progression after practicing yoga for a time. Talk to a doctor about your current concerns related to joint stress, and do some research into local yoga studios to find a class that could be right for you.
Like yoga, tai chi emphasizes body awareness, a sense of balance, and the slow, steady development of strength. You'll find your range of motion gradually improving throughout your tai chi classes, and you may also notice enhanced joint function and flexibility. If you need to do modified moves, speak to your tai chi instructor about your physical limits.
No, we're not talking about CrossFit—although the principle is similar. Cross-training simply means switching up the way you exercise from one day to the next. If you exercise the same way all the time, you run the risk of repetitive stress injuries to joints and muscles. Instead, change up your routine occasionally.
Perhaps you could bike on Tuesday and Thursday, walk on Monday and Wednesday, strength-train on Friday, swim on Saturday, and take Sundays off. Order your schedule and activities the way you like, and you'll notice three key benefits:
You won't be bored with your workout routine.
Your joints won't be stressed from doing the same thing every day.
You'll strengthen all your joints, not just certain ones.
If you're unsure which types of low-impact activity would work best for you, or if you're having new symptoms that concern you, contact one of our RingMD doctors for a convenient consultation. You'll receive professional advice that can help you pursue ways to exercise without causing stress to your joints.