If you or an aging loved one has arthritis, you're far from alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 23 percent of U.S. adults had been diagnosed with arthritis as of 2015, up from previous years. And of those with an official diagnosis, almost half (43.5 percent) said they experienced lower mobility.
While there are many types of arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common, and the one most associated with older adults. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between the joints wears down through overuse, age and other factors.
While the condition can make it tougher to do the things you enjoy, physical activity can be an important outlet to alleviate pain, stiffness and other arthritis symptoms. Fortunately, there are a number of fun and -- potentially healing -- activity options for seniors with arthritis. As an added bonus, many of the below activities can help boost your mobility and reduce pain.
1. Aqua Exercises
If your or a loved one has arthritis and is looking for ways to exercise, it’s important to choose low-impact activities that won’t exacerbate the condition. Swimming and aqua exercises are among the best low-impact exercises for seniors.
“The water creates a buoyancy to help decompress the joints and the water gives sensory feedback to the skin and joints to help reduce the perception of pain,” says Karena Wu, physical therapist and owner of ActiveCAre Physical Therapy.
Many senior living communities, fitness centers and local community pools offer water aerobics and similar classes – some geared especially toward older adults.
Yoga builds strength and flexibility, while providing a low-impact exercise for the joints. As an added health bonus, it helps reduce stress. Studies have shown that yoga reduces chronic pain, including that of arthritis, lowers blood pressure and improves circulatory health.
Just five minutes a day of yoga and stretching provides benefits, says Desk Yogi founder Jacqui Burge, who recommends getting started under the guidance of a qualified instructor.
“When dealing with arthritis or any other disease that causes stiffness, swelling and joint pain, it is important to remember you’re going to have good days and bad days,” she says. “Be easy on yourself but stick to a daily morning or before-bed routine. It can be just five minutes of gentle yoga.”
3. QiGong and Tai Chi
“Traditional eastern exercises like Tai Chi Or Qigong can help slow down or even reverse arthritis symptoms and are a wonderful and fun addition to a wellness and fitness program, “ says Robert Weinstein, an acupuncturist at Sourcepoint Acupuncture in Seattle.
These two traditional exercise programs follow the principles of Chinese Medicine. The exercises are designed release any blockages in your chi, or the energy flow, including pain in your joints.
Weinstein he has seen patients with arthritis who have been able to reduce their pain and boost mobility from regularly practicing Qigong.
You’re never too old to get out on the dance floor and boogie. Not only is dancing fun, it’s also great exercise. According to one study, taking a 45-minute dance therapy class two times a week led to reduced pain and improved mobility in those with arthritis. If you have arthritis, there are plenty of low-impact dance classes around, such as Zumba Gold, Belly Dancing, Ballroom Dancing, and Jazzercise Lite, from which to choose. As an added bonus, the camaraderie and music improve your mental state and helps lower stress.
There are many different types of crafts you can create, making it easy to find one that matches your interests. You can try needlework, clay, beading, knitting, coloring or woodwork. These activities can help lower stress and give you a sense of accomplishment.
Plus, crafting gets you moving your fingers and wrists, joints that are often targets of arthritis. The movement can help to slow the progression of the disease while also increasing the strength of the muscles in your hands, says Tresa Edmunds, cofounder of self-care subscription box service Haven Tree.
“Activities such as needlework, creating with polymer clay, or beading involve delicate manipulation of objects with your fingers, so they strengthen the small hand and finger muscles and increase dexterity,” Edmunds says. “Knitting and crocheting can be challenging because they require a fair amount of wrist strength, but they are fantastic activities to keep those muscles strong and ward off deterioration.”
Another physical activity that can help improve joint health while providing other health benefits is gardening. It’s a low-impact activity that even those with advanced arthritis can enjoy. As you water, prune and plant your garden, you build strength and flexibility while also improving your general physical fitness, including your cardiovascular health.
Gardening can also provide a welcoming distraction from the pain and studies have demonstrated the benefits of being surrounded by nature, including stress reduction. Plus, this activity means you’ll have a harvest of delicious and nutritious fresh fruits and vegetables to eat.
Speaking of eating, cooking is another fun, therapeutic activity for seniors with arthritis. By whipping up meals for yourself and others, you have greater control over what you eat so that you can ensure a healthier diet. Additionally, cooking can help you keep your mind sharp as you try out new recipes and invent your own.
Plus, stirring up baking mixes or chopping vegetables means you’re getting a chance to work your hands and wrists. If arthritis makes it tough to use certain cooking tools, you might consider the many kitchen tools on the market designed specifically for people with arthritis.