How Exercise Affects Your Joints: Which Should Be Avoided and Which Are Good for You?


We need to be physically active to maintain good health and stay fit, supporting our body and brain, too. The absolute minimum is 120-150 minutes of light exercise per week, and most doctors recommend combining light aerobic exercise with moderate strength training. Exercise develops your muscles, improves blood circulation, and increases the production of happiness hormones. Is exercise the cure-all? Alas, if only it were that simple.

Our joints cannot stay healthy without regular exercise. Unfortunately, exercises or just a considerable strain can significantly increase the risks of joint disorders.

Joints and physical activity: benefits and drawbacks

When we do appropriate physical exercises, we not only build muscles. During physical activity, our body develops an additional “portion” of cartilaginous tissue, which is good for the joints. That is why even those who have joint problems are recommended to continue the physical exercise. Besides, several reports, including “Running as a Key Lifestyle Medicine for Longevity,” confirm that we observe safety rules, the joints (including knee joints) of those who do exercises do not deteriorate and are even better than in those who shy away from exercise and workout. The thing is that the joints are not “connected” to the arteries and blood vessels and receive nutrients from the cartilaginous tissue. Imagine that you want to wet a sponge: as soon as you strain a joint, the liquid from the cartilage is squeezed out, but when we relax, it flows back but is now full of nutrients. In this way, the more often we strain and relax our joints, the more nutrients they receive.

The key is to avoid excessive strain.

Which physical exercises are good for joints?

  • Swimming

This is an almost ideal type of physical exercise that works for nearly everyone. Water supports our body and takes the strain from the joints while making the joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons work.

  • Rowing

On the one hand, rowing is a pretty intensive physical exercise that will make you strain your muscles, increase your heart rate and make the blood flow more intensively. On the other hand, cyclic circular movements done at moderate speed do not overload our joints while providing a sufficient workout. Finally, rowing is a type of sport that doesn’t strain our knees and thighs and therefore is suitable for those with issues or inflammation of lower joints.

  • Bicycling

During this workout, the back, knees, thighs, and ankles experience moderate strain as your feet do not touch the ground and do not take the weight of your body. At the same time, the movement is cyclical, like rowing or kayaking, so the strain is serious enough to develop the joints but not too severe to damage them.

  • Water aerobics

Although the strain during these exercises can be pretty intense, they do not load the joints because the body is supported by water and therefore are suitable even for people with inflamed joints. The only thing to watch out for is to avoid hypothermia.

  • Skiing

The leg joint strain is even less during a ski trip than during walking due to gliding movements. But it is important to remember that these exercises can be dangerous in older age because of falls, so you should pay close attention to avoid them.

  • Pilates, yoga, stretching

All these exercises are static; they help to keep the spine flexible and develop the ligaments and tendons but don’t load the joints. Besides, yoga and Pilates can improve the state of the joint cavity preventing the development of arthrosis.

Which exercises can be dangerous for joints?

Monotonous and intensive exercises are the most dangerous for joint health. It doesn’t matter whether they are power exercises or high-speed exercises.

  • Running

As noted above, running can be safe and beneficial for joints’ health, provided the strain is distributed correctly. However, if you skip protective equipment and run on inappropriate surfaces in poorly chosen footwear, the knee joints can be severely damaged.

  • Football

Osteoarthritis is a kind of occupational disease for professional footballers. Thus, the research “Participation in Certain Sports Associated With Knee Osteoarthritis: a Systematic Review,” published in the Journal of Athletic Training, has shown that the risk of developing this disease among football players is 3-7 times higher.

  • Weightlifting

The extra strain on knee joints during this workout is aggravated by the delayed risk of actively gaining weight observed in former athletes and also increases the chances of joint disorders. The earlier research states that these athletes’ risk of developing osteoarthritis has risen by 61%.

Is the exercise inconsistent with healthy joints?

Of course not. Even if your joints are hurting once in a while, you shouldn’t skip exercise. But it’s important to consult with a doctor and select an appropriate workout. It will let joints receive all necessary nutrients and keep functionality while allowing you to stay active and healthy for many years.

What to learn more? Read here: