Could HIIT Help Your Arthritis?

Health Writer

What is it?

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a training technique in which you give all-out effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise, followed by short rest periods. This type of exercising has gained immense popularity over the last several years and I understand why.

My story

Last winter I began experiencing joint pain like I’d never had before. Everything from my hands, to my hip, to my feet hurt. My doctor referred me to a rheumatologist and after blood testing, she told me that I either had osteoarthritis or the beginnings of rheumatoid arthritis. Either way, I knew it was time to get as strong as possible, as quickly as possible. I immediately began doing HIIT workouts and after nine months, I hope I never stop.

How it works

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, when you do HIIT workouts, the intense work periods may range from 5 seconds to 8 minutes long, and are performed at 80 to 95 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate. The rest periods may last the same time as the work periods. The workout continues with alternating work and rest periods for a total of 20 to 60 minutes. The HIIT program I do twice a week lasts for 24 minutes.

What the experts say

The benefits of exercise for those of us with arthritis is well documented by the scientific community. Unfortunately, many with arthritis avoid physical activity because they believe it will make their joint pain worse. The opposite is actually true, especially over time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, participating in joint-friendly physical activity can improve your arthritis pain, function, mood, and quality of life. When asked in a personal interview about HIIT training specifically for those living with arthritis, Rheumatologist Dr. Elizabeth Clayton said: “Any exercise is helpful for joint health. Low impact HIIT workouts would be best.”

Talk to your doctor

Letting your doctor know that you are embarking on a new exercise regimen can be helpful. Sometimes when you first start a new exercise program, with or without arthritis, you can temporarily increase your joint soreness. Your doctor may be able to support you with advice or medication to help you manage the initial soreness.

Hire a trainer

Jonnie Jenkins, head sports performance coach for Washington College and owner of Chesapeake Strength said in an email interview: “No matter the age, people must train! People think only Olympians train, but whether it is training for performance or longevity in life, exercise is vitally important. Once exercise technique is fully accomplished, HIIT training is one of several modalities that could be very beneficial in improving heart and joint health. Get with an experienced trainer, learn basic movement, and get those bones strong!”

See more helpful articles:

Staying Fit in Your Golden Years

Best Fitness Gifts for Someone With a Chronic Illness

Best Exercises for Painful Hands