Osteoarthritis – exercise and eating for health

Key points about exercise and eating for health to manage osteoarthritis

  • Regular exercise is one of the best ways to reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Even if you have pain, exercising can help as long as it doesn't make your pain unmanageable or a lot worse.
  • Eating and drinking well is great for your whole health and your joint health
  • It may also be helpful if you need joint surgery in the future.
  • Find out more about how to exercise with osteoarthritis.
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Regular exercise is one of the best treatments to reduce pain and stiffness, reduce your use of medicines, improve muscle strength, balance, mood and quality of life.

Exercise also has other benefits, eg, managing weight and reducing your risk of heart disease.

  • Include exercises that improve muscle strength around the affected joints, maintain the range of motion of affected joints, improve balance and improve general fitness.
  • Options include strengthening exercises, walking, using a gym, riding a bike, swimming, aqua jogging (aquacise), Tai Chi and gentle exercise classes.
  • Try exercising in a group – it can keep you motivated and be fun.
  • Read more about exercises to keep you moving(external link) and exercise groups in your area(external link).

  • Exercise is good for all people with osteoarthritis. It can be challenging to exercise if you're in pain. 
  • It's safe to exercise when you have osteoarthritis and it's normal for pain to increase during exercise. Pain or discomfort should feel manageable and not get a lot worse after exercising. 
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you should take a dose of your pain relief medication before exercising.
  • You can also see a physiotherapist to design a specific programme for you. 

Foods that are good for your heart and brain are also good for your muscles and joints. Eating well is about what you eat and how you eat. Eating a range of healthy foods is a great way to improve your energy, your mood and your health.

A healthy weight is the weight you are when you are eating well most of the time, enjoying regular movement, and taking good care of yourself.

Weight loss may improve joint pain. The key thing is to focus on healthy habits and the ways you can keep doing these.

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Image credit: Canva

A key way to manage your pain is to spread activities that use your joint over the day – plan your activities or exercises so they are split into manageable portions rather than doing them all at once. For example, try completing a task over a few short blocks of time throughout the day, rather than all at once in the morning. This strategy can help you to continue with the activities you enjoy. It can also help you to gain confidence and feel in control.

A physiotherapist can work with you to develop an exercise programme to improve your balance, strength and joint mobility. They can also advise you about suitable footwear and orthotic devices (eg, shoe wedges), and the use of walking aids, joint supports or bracing to correct any malalignment of joints.

An occupational therapist can provide you with guidance on assistance devices for difficulty with tasks of daily living, eg, shower or toilet rails, tap-turning, jar-opening and grabbing devices. Using assistive devices such as these can reduce pain and help you to maintain function and independent living, and may help prevent hospitalisations due to falls.

Attending a self-management programme or learning about coping and self-efficacy skills can reduce pain and disability.

Here's a self-management programme to help people with knee osteoarthritis(external link)

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust

Reviewed by: Dr Ben Darlow, Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Specialist Wellington, Senior Lecturer and researcher, Department of Primary Health Care and General Practice, University of Otago, Wellington

Last reviewed: