Is Swimming Good For Arthritis?

Editors Note: Is Swimming Good For Arthritis? These-days, arthritis isn’t only for old people. In today’s office and desk based society, arthritis is becoming increasingly common amongst younger generations. We thought our readers would love this article from the folks over at AquaGear. Don’t have arthritis yet? You can still use these swim tips to prevent it.

The debilitating effects of arthritis can stop you in your tracks. The associated pain, stiffness, and inflammation are known to bring on depression, weakness and even fever. But, you’re not suffering alone. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arthritis affects nearly 52 million Americans – that’s about 1/6 of the entire US population. If you’re living with arthritis and want to relieve joint pain, regain mobility, or just get a solid workout, this post is for you.

Why Water?

According to veteran fitness instructor, Ann Rosenstein, water provides between four and 42 times more resistance than air, depending on the intensity of the motion. So, any activity performed in the water will provide greater calorie-burning and muscle-building potential than its land-based counterpart. Additionally, water’s gravity-free setting relieves pressure from aching joints and bones. In her book, Water Exercise for Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rosenstein also points out the beneficial nature of water’s hydrostatic pressure such as improved circulation, lowered blood pressure and reduction of inflammation.

Advocated by the Arthritis Foundation and the Aquatic Exercise Association (AEA), water is the ideal setting for people with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and other joint mobility problems to achieve full-body conditioning as well as cardiovascular exercise. Even if you can’t swim, you can still reap the benefits of water exercise through aerobics, jogging, or Ai Chi performed in shallow water. Fortunately, many YMCA’s offer tailored classes for people with arthritis, osteoporosis and other mobility challenges.


Easy on the Joints

Although land-based exercise provides calorie-consuming activity, it pails in comparison to aquatic exercise. Not only does water’s density increase calories burned, it also supports the body, making your weight negligible. Beyond that, this pressure-less environment allows you to exercise longer than you would be able to on land – deepening your results and inspiring you to continue your routine long term. And, because arthritis continues to debilitate its victims year after year, it’s important to find an exercise routine you can stick with. The University of Washington’s (UW) College of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine urges arthritis patients to keep their joints moving, noting that immobilized joints stiffen and weaken over time, leading to further pain.

Though most people with arthritis are adults, about 294,000 children under 18 have been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the CDC. Luckily, water exercise isn’t just for older arthritis-sufferers. Young people afflicted by arthritis and other rheumatologic conditions stand to benefit from swimming and water workouts as well. The College of Health Sciences at Texas Women’s University advocates swimming and water exercise for young people with rheumatoid arthritis to increase the range of motion, muscular strength, and aerobic endurance as well as self-esteem.

If you do plan to try a water exercise program, make sure that the pool is properly heated so that you don’t incur further joint stiffness. The Arthritis Foundation recommends working out in a pool heated to at least 82 degrees Fahrenheit to mitigate joint pain. They also point out that warmer water (closer to 88 degrees) may be more suitable for people who are not planning to workout, but who simply want to enjoy the weightlessness and hydrostatic pressure for relief from pain and inflammation.


Weight Loss & Muscle Strength

As reported by the Mayo Clinic, a 200-pound person burns an average of 501 calories in a one-hour water aerobics class – meaning you’ll reap the benefit of weight loss as well as decreased joint pain if you choose to work out in the pool. And, thanks to this weight loss, your joints will be less stressed on land with less weight to bear. Not only will your joints feel the benefits of less body weight, water exercise will also enhance muscular strength and endurance – essential to proper joint and bone function. A 1987 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis saw a marked increase in aerobic capacity as well as quadricep strength thanks to a two-month water exercise program.


Of course, before starting any new workout routine, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor or physical therapist if they think it’s suitable for you. Once you get the green light from your doctor, you’re free to start reaping the many benefits of water exercise like reduced joint pain and inflammation, increased mobility and range of motion, weight loss, and cardio endurance. Try out an aqua aerobics class, start a solo water exercise routine, or swim laps at home to keep your joints in motion.

Lizzy Bullock is a Red Cross certified swimming instructor (WSI) with a decade of experience helping children overcome fear and swim independently. Lizzy currently works as a swimming instructor and staff writer for AquaGear, a swim school and online swim shop.