arthritis exercise guidelines

Exercise: How Much Is Enough?

Get the answers to your questions about beginning an exercise program.


Exercise is good for arthritis. This much you know. Regular physical activity keeps your joints lubricated, which makes movement easier; it produces endorphins, which contribute to your overall sense of well-being and help control pain; it improves your overall health and even helps you sleep easier at night.

But folks who are just starting out on a fitness plan may have a few questions. How often do I exercise? How intensely? For how long? What types of workouts are best for my type of arthritis?

If those questions sound familiar to you, use these F.I.T.T. guidelines, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Short for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type, they can help provide a framework for your regular fitness program.

Frequency: Daily exercise is best, but its benefits are cumulative. Short sessions throughout the day or week can add up to big health benefits. Try three 10-minute walks in a day instead of one 30-minute workout.

Intensity: Start slow and easy, with the goal of working up to moderate or vigorous. Use the talk test to measure intensity. If you can talk but not sing, you’re exercising at moderate intensity. If you're able to say only a few words before you need to pause for a breath, you’re exercising at vigorous intensity.

Time: Choose any of these options:

1. 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which equals 30 minutes of exercise five days a week.

2. OR 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week.

3. OR an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous exercise.

Also, perform muscle strengthening exercises at least two days per week. Adding balance exercises to the mix is also a good idea.

Type: Aim for a combination of these three activities:

1. Low-impact aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, biking, swimming, water aerobics, gardening, group exercise classes and dancing.

2. Muscle-strengthening exercises such as calisthenics, isometrics, weight training and using resistance bands.

3. Balance exercises such as yoga and tai chi.

Source: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Arthritis Foundation is the leading organization 
providing support and funding research to improve the 
lives of individuals with arthritis. You can help!