When your joints hurt and your energy levels are low, exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing. But exercise is important for your health. And it’s even more crucial if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

The America Heart Association recommends that most people get 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week. Swimming offers a way to move your body and get your exercise in without putting extra stress on sore joints, making it a highly recommended option for people with RA.

Plus, working out in the water can be tailored to suit your fitness needs, whether you are a complete beginner or more advanced.

Read on to find out why swimming is the fourth most popular form of cardiovascular exercise in the United States and the benefits of swimming for rheumatoid arthritis.

Here are some ways swimming can benefit RA.

Reduces muscle and joint soreness and stiffness

Swimming helps to promote blood flow and circulation. When blood flows more freely through your body, it helps deliver more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and joints.

The water can also allow you to stretch and move your muscles in ways you may not typically be able to while out of the water.

Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease

Swimming helps you improve your overall cardiovascular health.

Studies show that RA is a well-recognized cardiovascular risk factor, which means that taking steps to improve your overall fitness level, such as swimming, can help lower your risk.

Provides weightless relief for joints

Unlike running, jogging, or even walking, swimming puts little to no additional strain on your joints and muscles, since the water supports 90 percent of your weight. There is no jolt from impact with the ground when you’re swimming.

In other words, swimming can be a great choice if you have moderate to severe arthritis and have trouble with other exercise routines that do not protect the joints.

Improves muscle strength and support

While many consider swimming a cardio workout, it can help build muscle strength as well. Water offers more resistance than air, which means your muscles have to work harder to move you through the water.

Keeping muscles strong can benefit RA. When you keep your supporting muscles strong through regular exercise, they can help keep your joint structures in place and help prevent your RA from getting worse.

Swimming is one of several different water-based activities that you can try in order to stay active. Here are a few other water-based exercises you could try:

  • Water walking. Go for a walk in waist to chest deep water. For added challenge, try doing a lap forward and then walking backward or picking up the pace.
  • Water jogging. Water jogging is a simple exercise where you mimic jogging or running in place, typically in deeper water. Though advanced joggers can do this without equipment, you may find that you benefit from getting a flotation belt that gives you a bit more buoyancy. Some gyms or health spas may have ones you can use.
  • Water aerobics. Water aerobics typically involve several of the moves you might do during a land-based aerobics class, just modified for water. You can often find gyms that offer water aerobics as a class. You can expect to do a full body workout that includes arms, legs, and midsection.

Before you get started with a new exercise program, be sure to talk with your doctor first. They can provide guidance based on your individual health so that you can safely start a new exercise program.

Once you get your doctor’s clearance, some tips to help you get started include:

  • Look for a heated pool. The Arthritis Foundation recommends exercising in warm water that’s between 83 and 90°F (28 and 32°C) for optimal pain relieving benefits. Check with local pools, fitness centers, or physical therapy facilities to see if they are heated or offer programs for people with arthritis.
  • Hydrate regularly. It is difficult to tell when you sweat in the pool, so make sure you take breaks as needed to drink some water or other fluids, and be sure to pack some for after.
  • Don’t push through joint pain. Even though water exercises provide decent joint relief, you may still experience pain. If you do, it is better to stop than to push through. You can talk with your doctor about what is and is not typical pain during exercise.
  • Come prepared. You don’t typically need much equipment for swimming or water exercises, but some things you might want to include in your bag include goggles, swim or pool shoes for traction, flotation devices (noodles or kick boards), and bottles for drinking water.

Swimming and water-based exercises offer several benefits for RA and your overall health as well. One of the main advantages over land-based exercises is the near weightlessness you experience when doing it which helps take stress off the joints.

Swimming also offers a combination of cardio and strength training, which can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, increase muscle strength and joint support, and help prevent disease progression.