You may think that exercise and arthritis don’t go hand in hand. But that’s certainly not the case. It was thought for many years that if you had arthritis you should not exercise because it would damage your joints. Now, however, research has shown that exercise is an essential tool in managing your arthritis.

Regular, moderate exercise offers a whole host of benefits to people with arthritis. Mainly, exercise reduces joint pain and stiffness, builds strong muscle around the joints, and increases flexibility and endurance. It reduces inflammation from arthritis and related conditions and reduces the risk of other chronic conditions. It also helps promote overall health and fitness by giving you more energy, helping you sleep better, controlling your weight, decreasing depression, and giving you more self-esteem. Furthermore, exercise can help stave off other health problems such as osteoporosis and heart disease.

Starting an exercise program can seem like a daunting proposition. The important thing to remember is to start slow and make it fun. It is always good to start with flexibility exercises, which are basically stretching exercises that will improve your range of motion and help you perform daily activities. (Watch these  stretching exercise videos to get started.) Once you feel comfortable you can move on to weight training and endurance exercises such as bicycling. (Make sure to avoid injury by riding the right bike.)

You may be reluctant to exercise because you are in such pain. If this is the case you may want to start with a water exercise program. In the water, your body’s buoyancy reduces stress on your hips, knees, and spine while building strength and increasing range of motion. There are many aquatic programs and exercises that are great for people with arthritis. Try water walking, for example. Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so you’re getting a great workout without the wear and tear on your joints. Find out more about the Arthritis Foundation exercise programs. For information on an aquatic exercise program in your area, call your local Arthritis Foundation office.

An exercise program can include anything from walking around the block, taking a yoga class, or playing a round of golf. In this section, we’ve attempted to give you all the information you will need on how to start exercising and the proper way to incorporate exercise into the management of your arthritis.

Whatever exercise program you decide on you should always consult with your doctor before starting out. Two other types of health professionals that can help you develop an exercise program that fits your specific needs are a physical or occupational therapist. A physical therapist can show you the proper techniques and precautions when performing certain types of exercise. An occupational therapist can show you how to perform daily activities without putting additional stress on your joints and can provide you with splints or assistive devices that can make working out more comfortable.

The goal is to have a regular exercise program. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do a minimum of 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking, gardening) a week or 1 hour and 15 minutes each week of vigorous aerobic physical activity (jogging, aerobic dancing). Whether your activity is moderate or vigorous, the goal is to keep moving. Set some exercise goals and track them with the Let’s Move Together movement tracker or listen to a podcast and psyche yourself up to move.