Open Accessibility Menu

Does Yoga Benefit Those with Arthritis?

Yoga is a great form of exercise that can improve balance, strength and flexibility. We recently spoke to Dr. James Ting, Sports Medicine physician at HOI, to get his expertise on the benefits of yoga, specifically for those with arthritis.

How important is it for those with arthritis to remain active? How can yoga help you stay active?

There are both physiological and psychological benefits of exercise that have been studied and well-documented. Physiological benefits include reduced risks of coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, lipid/cholesterol abnormalities, and colon cancer. Immediate post-exercise psychological benefits of exercise include decreased anxiety, improved mood and feelings of well-being, as well as an increased sense of relaxation following the activity. Longer-term positive effects of exercise on anxiety, mood, and stress have also been suggested when comparing active individuals to sedentary ones.

Regarding arthritis, regular exercise strengthens the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support joints, which results in less stress and impact on the joints themselves. Exercise also increases blood flow to joints and stimulates circulation of the synovial fluid that lubricates them, potentially contributing to decreased stiffness and pain. Consistent exercise also enhances weight loss, which long-term can reduce the overall stress and wear on joints. While not specific to arthritis, regular exercise also strengthens bones themselves and is a preventative measure in curbing bone loss and osteoporosis. Finally, exercise can result in feelings of enhanced energy and stamina by improving sleep and decreasing fatigue.

Individuals with arthritis who practice yoga derive all of the positive benefits of exercise that have been previously cited such as improvements in flexibility, muscle strength, and joint stiffness, with decreased pain and increased function. Moreover, yoga has the additional advantage of being an exercise modality that can be gentle enough that it can be performed daily. Finally, the meditative aspects of yoga can also aid in promoting an improved mood and increased sense of well-being.

Any tips for those who are new to yoga?

Dress appropriately for the activity. Clothes that are too loose or too restrictive may limit full range of motion, and also hinder your instructor’s ability to properly evaluate your position and alignment. Purchasing yoga-specific clothing is not a necessity, but clothing should be comfortable and fit well. Be sure also to drink water and stay hydrated. Maintaining your fluid intake before, during, and after activity is essential to avoid dehydration and to optimize your performance level with yoga or any physical activity.

Yoga can be practiced at home, but it is recommended that your first yoga activity be supervised in-person by a certified instructor. Once you have gained familiarity and confidence with the activity, you may consider transitioning or pursuing additional practice at home. There are many yoga self-instruction books and videos readily available, but keep in mind that many of these may not be geared specifically for individuals with arthritis, which makes it all the more important to start your yoga training with a certified instructor that is both knowledgeable, and has experience working with people with arthritic conditions.

Equally important if you are considering yoga at home is to be aware of your limitations and listen to the cues your body gives you. Pain should not be a part of the experience, and if it is, you should stop the activity and consult with your physician and/or your instructor about any necessary modifications. Performed properly, yoga is gentle enough that it can be practiced daily. For even the most sedentary or inflexible patients, there also exists options for seated, or chair yoga classes.