Working out in a pool is ideal for arthritis sufferers, says Howard Chansky, MD, chair of orthopedics at the University of Washington. “Osteoarthritis can be so debilitating that people are unable to exercise on dry land,” he explains. “But water removes the load on your joints and allows you to move without pain.” The reason: The water cushions the joints to make normally painful movements effortless while still toning and strengthening the muscles around the joints to decrease pain.
Indeed, in a study in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 44 percent of osteoarthritis patients who did land-based exercise reported discomfort afterward, compared to only 11 percent of patients in the aquatic group. And since water provides 15 times more resistance than air, muscles have to work up to 800 percent harder, yielding big results in little time. To get the benefits, try a water aerobics class three times a week at your local gym or community center. Or hop into the pool and try these three moves while standing in chest-deep water.
Noodle leg press
This press strengthens the thigh muscles to relieve pressure on the knees.
TO DO: Hold the ends of a pool noodle, bend it to form a U shape, and push it under the water. Step on the middle of the noodle, release the ends and press it down to the floor, straightening your leg. Bend your knee to let the noodle rise up and grab the ends. Do 15 reps on each leg.
Maintaining balance calls on the core muscles and encourages good posture to balance weight on the joints.
TO DO: Hold the noodle in front of you with your arms extended a few inches below the surface of the water. Kick one leg straight up to tap the noodle with the top of your foot. Do 15 reps on each leg.
Hopping strengthens the muscles around the knee to eliminate pain.
TO DO: Hold the ends of a pool noodle, bend it to form a U shape, and push it under the water. Step over the noodle with one leg then the other, then step back over to return to start. Do 15 reps. For an advanced version, jump over the noodle with your legs together.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.