Why is physical activity important for people with arthritis?

picture of person walking up steps in trainers

If you have arthritis, participating in joint-friendly physical activity can improve your arthritis pain, function, mood, and quality of life. Joint-friendly physical activities are low-impact, which means they put less stress on the body, reducing the risk of injury. Examples of joint-friendly activities include walking, cycling and swimming. Being physically active can also delay the onset of arthritis-related disability and help people with arthritis manage other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

How much activity do I need?

Stay as active as your health allows, and change your activity level depending on your arthritis symptoms. Some physical activity is better than none.

How do I exercise safely with arthritis?

Learn how you can safely exercise and enjoy the benefits of increased physical activity with these S.M.A.R.T. tips.

  • Start low, go slow.
  • Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, try to stay active.
  • Activities should be “joint friendly.”
  • Recognize safe places and ways to be active.
  • Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist.

Start low, and go slow

When starting or increasing physical activity, start slow and pay attention to how your body tolerates it. People with arthritis may take more time for their body to adjust to a new level of activity. If you are not active, start with a small amount of activity, for example, 3 to 5 minutes 2 times a day. Add activity a little at a time (such as 10 minutes at a time) and allow enough time for your body to adjust to the new level before adding more activity.  The following is a great guide to get started –

Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, try to stay active.

Your arthritis symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, and fatigue, may come and go and you may have good days and bad days. Try to modify your activity to stay as active as possible without making your symptoms worse.

Activities should be “joint friendly.”

Choose activities that are easy on the joints like walking, bicycling, water aerobics, or dancing. These activities have a low risk of injury and do not twist or “pound” the joints too much.

Recognize safe places and ways to be active.

Safety is important for starting and maintaining an activity plan. If you are currently inactive or you are not sure how to start your own physical activity program, an exercise class may be a good option. If you plan and direct your own activity, find safe places to be active. For example, walk in an area where the pavements or pathways are level and free of obstructions, are well-lighted, and are separated from heavy traffic.

How hard are you working?

Measure the relative intensity of your activity with the talk test. In general, if you’re doing moderate activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you are doing vigorous activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Low-impact aerobic activities do not put stress on the joints and include brisk walking, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, light gardening, group exercise classes, and dancing.

For major health benefits, do at least:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like cycling at less than 10 miles per hour, or
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like cycling at 10 mph or faster, each week. Another option is to do a combination of both. A rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous-intensity activity is about the same as 2 minutes of moderate-intensity activity.

In addition to aerobic activity, you should also do muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups two or more days a week.

Muscle-strengthening exercises include lifting weights, working with resistance bands, pilates and yoga. These can be done at home, in an exercise class, or at a fitness centre.

Flexibility exercises like stretching and yoga are also important for people with arthritis. Many people with arthritis have joint stiffness that makes daily tasks difficult. Doing daily flexibility exercises helps maintain range of motion so you can keep doing everyday things like household tasks, hobbies, and visiting with friends and family.

Balance exercises like walking backwards, standing on one foot, and tai chi are important for those who are at a risk of falling or have trouble walking. Do balance exercises 3 days per week if you are at risk of falling. Balance exercises are included in many group exercise classes.

What do I do if I have pain during or after exercise?

It’s normal to have some pain, stiffness, and swelling after starting a new physical activity program. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for your joints to get used to your new activity level, but sticking with your activity program will result in long-term pain relief.

Here are some tips to help you manage pain during and after physical activity so you can keep exercising:

  • Until your pain improves, modify your physical activity program by exercising less frequently (fewer days per week) or for shorter periods of time (less time each session).
  • Try a different type of exercise that puts less pressure on the joints—for example, switch from walking to water aerobics.
  • Do proper warm-up and cool-down before and after exercise.
  • Exercise at a comfortable pace—you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.
  • Make sure you have good fitting, comfortable shoes.

Visit Active Cornwall website to find information on local activities and programmes to help you keep moving and Live Longer Better https://www.activecornwall.org/


Cycling is very good for strengthening your knees and for general fitness.

Use an exercise bike or traffic-free cycle routes if you prefer not to go out on busy roads.

If you get a lot of knee pain you may have to take it very gently to start off with. Stop if your pain gets worse after cycling.

Cycling is good for your heart and health – everyday cycling, where it leaves you breathing heavily but not out of breath, is an effective and enjoyable form of aerobic exercise. Cycling can improve your mood and have positive effects on how you feel – reducing levels of depression and stress, and raising self-esteem.

Below are some great links to show you some of the amazing cycle and trail routes that are around Cornwall –





Swimming is particularly good for people with arthritis because due to the buoyancy of the water it provides a gentle way to exercise joints and muscles. The water supports joints to encourage free movement and acts as resistance to build muscle strength.  When you swim, around 90% of your body weight is supported by the water. The relatively weightless environment and support from the water helps to overcome painful movement in the joints that are affected by the condition. Swimming also helps to tone up the supporting muscles without the discomfort of other exercises.

Aqua aerobic exercise classes

Aqua aerobics provides a good work out without putting too much strain on the joints. This is aerobics in water, normally waist deep. It involves the upper and lower body, and mid-section. Ensure you warm up for five to 10 minutes with easy walking and arm movements. Contact your local leisure center or swimming pool and ask about the classes they offer.

Kernow Hydro, near Redruth offers swimming and pool classes, supported by coaches and therapists – https://kernowhydro.co.uk/

Wild and sea swimming

Sea swimming has become very popular in recent years, and there are many groups that enjoy sea swimming around the coast of Cornwall.  Below are a few links that may help put you in touch with a group local to you.



Tai Chi

Tai Chi combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements.  In older people, Tai Chi has been shown to

  • decrease stress
  • increase muscle strength in the lower body
  • improve balance and posture
  • improve the ability to move

There is some evidence that Tai Chi can improve mobility in the ankle, hip and knee in people with arthritis. For more information on Tai chi  see:  http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/taichi.aspx  AND http://www.nras.org.uk/tai-chi-for-arthritis

There are a number of Tai Chi classes held in communities across the county.   Some instructors can be found here:  http://www.taichiunion.com/instructors/?l=cornwall

This is one option for Tai Chi classes in Cornwall:  https://www.cornwalltaichi.co.uk/

Physiotherapist Rachel leads specialist classes for people with arthritis, which are held in Truro, Penzance and St Agnes,  More details are on her website – https://www.racheltaichihealth.com/

contact Rachel on – 07500 320481  OR  rachel-taichiforhealth@outlook.com

Tai Chi / Qi Gong

Some local sessions can be found below –

Sessions held at Cubert village hall every Monday and Tuesday 11am-12pm, and at Tregony village hall every Thursday 11am-12pm.

Contact – Alan Hughes, 07742 666447

email – ccma@btinternet.com


Walking can help you feel good, increase energy levels, reduce stress, improve sleep, help you manage your weight and generally improve health. It’s something that you can easily introduce into your everyday life – just start with a short stroll and try and gradually build on that. For those who are able to walk half a mile or more there are a number of walking groups in Cornwall that run walks at different levels led by trained walk leaders. They range from short works on hard flat surfaces to longer walks involving some gradients. It is a chance to get out, explore your area and meet new people. You can start slowly and build up gently.  Walking briskly even for one minute counts as exercise!

Below are some links that will take you to information for local walks which run by trained walk leaders.  Contact the walk leader to find out more information.




A brisk 10 minute walk every day can make a difference to your health. Each 10 minute burst of exercise is known as an “Active 10”.  Why not try the Active 10 app developed by Public Health England – https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home

Brisk walking is simply walking faster than usual, at a pace that gets your heart pumping. Start with a 10 minute brisk walk a day and then see if you can gradually build up to more.  It’s the easy way to improve your health and well-being. No gym memberships, no Lycra. Just 10 minutes and you!

Accessible Cornwall

VisitCornwall have compiled a list of accessible places to visit in Cornwall. Their page is an information guide on accessible Cornwall. Whatever your age, background or abilities and being less able doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy a visit to Cornwall any less. Look out for the downloadable guides in PDF format at the foot of this page.



Cornwall Life have a page on accessible Cornwall with some interesting links.


For a guide to accessible beaches these links have some good information:



Sand chairs

Sand Chairs can be used in a range of outdoor environments including beaches. Sand chairs are available at over 12 beaches around Cornwall  see:


South West Coast Path – accessible walks

North Cliffs, Portreath  – accessible to wheelchairs and mobility scooters – http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/walksdb/33/

Godrevy Head – accessible to those with impaired mobility – http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/walksdb/67/

Stepper Point, Padstow – suitable for mobility scooters – http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/walksdb/78/

Penzance to Marazion – suitable for wheelchair users – http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/walksdb/71/

Yoga and Pilates are both low-impact workouts that focus on using body weight resistance. The benefits are vast. Both workouts can increase overall health, leading to a better quality of life.



The benefits of yoga have been studied extensively. In addition to physical and mental benefits, yoga is also known to have positive effects for medical issues, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • multiple sclerosis
  • arthritis
  • respiratory conditions
  • high blood pressure
  • chronic pain
  • type 2 diabetes

Yoga is popular with people with arthritis for its gentle way of promoting flexibility and strength. Some research suggests that yoga can reduce pain and mobility problems in people with knee osteoarthritis.   However, some yoga moves aren’t suitable for people with arthritis.  Find a teacher who understands arthritis and can adapt movements for individual needs, especially if you have replacement joints.  Check with a doctor or physiotherapist to find out if there are any movements to avoid.

For more information on Yoga see: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/guide-to-yoga/

There are a number of  yoga classes held in communities across the county. Some instructors can be found here https://www.bwy.org.uk

Yoga for Healthy Backs offers specific care for the lower back, and has classes held in Cornwall.  For more information and a list of providers go to:  https://www.yogaforbacks.co.uk/

Local Yoga sessions include –

Yoga in Flushing, Flushing Sailing Club :

Yoga for Seniors – Wednesdays 11.30am-12.30pm & 12.45-1.45pm,  £32 for 4-week month

Early Bird – Thursdays 7-8am, £28 for 4-week month

General Class – Thursdays 5.30-7pm, £32 for 4-week month

BeKarma Yoga, Longdowns, Nr Penryn

Tel – 07769 329088

email – info@bekarmayoga.uk

Offers Hatha Yoga including beginners and Hot Yoga throughout the week.


Pilates focuses on small movements that require the use of important stabilizing muscles of the back and core. There is a strong emphasis on starting each exercise with a controlled breath that initiates a contraction of the core muscles. Pilates can be done on a mat or on specialized equipment. The equipment is unique as it only uses springs, levers, and your own body weight to provide resistance.

Pilates can help to:

  • increase muscle strength and endurance
  • improve flexibility and posture
  • lead to better balance
  • result in decreased joint pain

For more information on Pilates click here https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/guide-to-pilates/

Hydrotherapy can provide many benefits…

  • The warmth of the water can help muscles relax and ease pain in joints, helping you to exercise
  • The water helps support weight, helping to relieve pain and increase the range of movement in joints
  • Help improve muscle strength, by providing resistance.

Available Hydrotherapy in Cornwall

(Correct as of March 2024 – please check with providers as subject to change)

NASS Cornwall (National Axial Spondylarthritis Society)

Physio led, Wednesdays at RCHT, 4.30-5.15 and 5.15-6.00, £8 per session

Mondays at Kernow Hydro, Portreath, 1.15-14.15, £10 per session.

Contact details, Cornwall@nass.co.ukNASS Cornwall | National Axial Spondyloarthritis Society, or Cornwall.physio@nass.co.uk

Harbourside Physiotherapy, Newlyn West Cornwall, Thursdays 3pm and 5pm. Contact Beth at main@harboursidephysiotherapy.co.uk, 01736 366224.

Hydro club, Monday and Tuesday evenings, 4.30-6.30pm, ½ hour sessions, self management only, no physio present, £10 annual membership and £30 per month. This can only be accessed once a patient has been through the hydrotherapy department and had an exercise programme prescribed. Contact: Zoe Bushell, hydroclubtruromembers@gmail.com

Kernow Hydro

We have three options for hydrotherapy at this time.

Group (max 8 people) £10 – 60 mins

The Hydrotherapy sessions are non-instructed and give you an opportunity to use our warm waters for your own exercise programme. You can bring an exercise programme from your own physiotherapist with you and use our equipment to further the movements.

Private Hire (minimum of two people required) £20 for medical or £30 for non-medical

Private use of the pool for 30 minutes. For safety reasons, there must be a minimum of 2 people and a maximum of 8, the cost does not change in relation to the number of people you bring.

Circuit classes £10 for 45 mins

A circuit session led by a retired nurse. You will be shown different ways that the equipment can be used but a specific plan for your own needs will not be offered.

To book a session, you will need to register on Class Manager CLICK HERE

Once you have done this, please create a student – this will allow you to see the spaces available and enrol in one that is convenient.

For further information please contact Kernow Hydro, The Track, New Portreath Road, TR16 4HN, www.kernowhydro.co.uk.

St Michaels Resort

Two facilities at the resort which both offer different experiences. The Hydro pool is located in the spa please contact spa@stmichaelsresort.com for more information

At the Health Club there is a 17-metre leisure pool which is 1.4 m deep and runs between 30-32 degrees. Also available, steam room, sauna, jacuzzi wall and swan neck massage jets. For membership information, opening times and prices at the Health Club please see the link below: Gym Memberships | Health Club | St Michaels (stmichaelsresort.com)