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Is Swimming the Best Exercise for Arthritis?

author image Carol Ochs
Carol Ochs is an award-winning writer in the Washington, D.C. area. During 17 years with The Associated Press she covered health, medical and sports stories as a writer, editor and producer. She has written for the health section of "The Washington Post," a Fairfax County stewardship publication and a biopharmaceutical newsletter. Ochs has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Ohio University, Athens.
Is Swimming the Best Exercise for Arthritis?
A woman swims underwater in an indoor pool. Photo Credit: Steve Mason/Photodisc/Getty Images

Swimming provides an overall workout for the body that can benefit anyone, but it's especially effective for people with arthritis. While it’s hard to choose any single “best” exercise for everyone, doctors often recommend swimming for people with arthritis. The exercise combined with the water's support provides an aerobic workout without putting extra stress on your aching joints.

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Arthritis is often thought of as senior citizen's condition, but it can affect people of any age. The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both cause an inflammation of the joints, such as the knees or wrists. People suffering from arthritis may experience pain, stiffness, swelling, redness and a decreased range of motion. With osteoarthritis, the problems stem from wear-and-tear damage to cartilage that allows joint bones to slide smoothly over each other. With rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the joints and inflames the membrane, which lubricates the joint.


If you suffer from arthritis, exercise is important to keep your joints flexible. However, many people shy away from exercise because it can be painful. That’s where swimming comes in. In a pool, the buoyancy of the water helps reduce the stress on painful weight-bearing joints. Both swimming and water aerobics can give your heart a good workout while keeping your joints limber and allowing you to increase your range of motion. In addition, the supportive sensation of the warm water may give you a physical and mental boost.

Water Walking

"Arthritis Today" reports that if you don’t want to swim laps but still want the benefits of a water workout, try water walking. According to aquatic coordinator Vennie Jones, walking in water “provides 12 times the resistance of air.” You can walk in deep or shallow water, but deeper water will give you a more strenuous workout. If you choose to head to the deep end, use a flotation belt to keep you floating upright at about shoulder height. Simply walk through the water the same way you would on land. Go backward and sideways to tone more muscles.

Not Perfect

While swimming and water exercise provide benefits to people with arthritis, a water workout is not a perfect exercise routine. "Arthritis Today" notes that weight-bearing exercises are necessary for bone health. Weight-bearing exercises help reduce your risk of osteoporosis, a brittle bone condition that affects many older people, especially women. So, once you’re limbered up in the pool, try some walking on land or workouts with weights to round out your exercise routine.

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