7 Steps to Getting Active With Arthritis

1. Exercising with arthritis
While it may not be obvious, weight loss and exercise can help people with arthritis.

The more your body weighs, the more wear and tear on your joints. Exercise can help you lose weight, but it can also help in other ways.

Stretching and strengthening exercises—if done carefully—can improve joint mobility and lower pain intensity.

Here's how to get started.

2. Talk to your doctor first
Why it helps: It's wise for anyone to talk with their doctor before starting an exercise regime, but it is especially important if your joints are injured by arthritis and your fitness level is low from taking it easy to stay out of pain.

Ask about exercise time and weight limits, motivational support, and the appropriate after-exercise pain treatment.

3 Think big, start small
Why it helps: Exercise will help improve your joints' range of motion; strengthen the muscles around the joints, which protects them and improves function; and increase your aerobic fitness and help you lose weight, which reduces the stress on your joints.

So you should plan to address three exercise goals and types: flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular health.

4.Join a group
Why it helps: Group participation is an important motivator for people who want to begin exercising, losing weight, and changing their habits.

Arthritis, like any chronic pain condition, can be an isolating disease, so finding support will not only help you achieve your fitness goals, but it will also help you tackle this disease.

Ask arthritis clinics, community centers, physical therapy clinics, and gyms to recommend group programs.

5. Consider yoga
Why it helps: The emphasis on stretching, whole-body well-being, and group practice makes yoga especially relevant to some arthritis sufferers.

Although the scientific evidence of arthritis-specific benefits is limited (few studies have been done), the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center still recommends yoga to its patients.

6. Take to the water
Why it helps: A 2007 Australian study, though small, found "significant" benefits from the low-impact, body-supporting medium of water.

Check with your local community center, YMCA, or a nearby pool for arthritis-focused facilities and sessions.

7. Warm up—literally
Why it helps: Mayo Clinic's arthritis center advises a 20-minute joint-warming routine before you begin—warm towels, hot packs, etc.

Follow it with a postexercise ice-pack cooldown.

Go easy: Neither the heat nor the cold should be painful.

This Is What It’s Like to Have an ‘Invisible’ Autoimmune Disease

Jody Quinn, 58, was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis 13 years ago. Symptoms of the autoimmune disease appeared gradually; at first, she only experienced pain in her wrist and elbow. As a result, her friends had trouble understanding what she was going through. But by becoming her own advocate, Quinn has helped educate those close to her about the painful disease.

I was first diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2003, when I was in my mid-40s. But looking back, I suspect I had the disease for about 10 years before that. It was a long road to get my diagnosis. At first, the pain was confined to my wrist and elbows, so doctors assumed I had repetitive stress injuries. They recommended modifications to my daily routine, such as using an ergonomic keyboard.

Once I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, I found that many people weren’t familiar with the disease. And when people can’t see the effects of a condition, they tend to assume that it isn’t serious.

RELATED: 9 Things People With Psoriatic Arthritis Want You to Know

I had trouble relating to friends and family

Everyone seemed to have advice to offer. People would tell me that I could cure my psoriatic arthritis by losing weight, cutting gluten out of my diet, or making a lifestyle change. You would never say that to someone with cancer. But I still appreciated their ideas because it helped open up a dialogue.

I tend to be a very go-go-go kind of person, but once I was diagnosed, I realized I needed to take it a little easier. Even if I feel up for it, I try to limit my activities—I know a busy schedule can catch up with me, and then I might not be able to get out of bed for a day. Surprisingly, it’s been harder for my longtime friends to accept this, because they remember the old active me.

At the same time, I also try to hide some of the pain psoriatic arthritis causes me. Nobody has seen my fingernails in 13 years, since I always keep them polished so you can’t tell that they are splitting, pitting, and lifting up from the nail bed (a common symptom for psoriatic arthritis patients). Recently, my fingers have started to be affected, too. The joints on my right pointer finger and my left hand are swollen, and my baby fingers are often bruised.

Increased awareness of psoriatic arthritis has helped

In 2011, golfer Phil Mickelson shared that he’d been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. Soon after, celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Cyndi Lauper started speaking out about their experiences with psoriasis, a skin condition that I also have (up to 30% of psoriasis patients eventually develop psoriatic arthritis). The increased media attention helped my friends and family understand that I have a real disease that affects my daily life.

It has also been invaluable to have an understanding employer. I’m an office manager at a small, family-owned construction company. They’ve been by my side since I was first diagnosed and are very supportive when I need to take days off for treatment. I’ve even started taking Mondays off so I can use that day to get ready for the week ahead. Proper rest is so important for people with psoriatic arthritis.

I make a point to modify my activities, such as taking the elevator instead of the stairs. But even though I have to accept that I can’t do some of the things I used to love, such as workout out or going on a big vacation, I try to stay as active as possible.

How I’m helping educate others about psoriatic arthritis

Whenever I’d tell someone I have psoriatic arthritis, they often hadn’t heard of it. So I decided to volunteer as a community ambassador for the National Psoriasis Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps people with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. I work with healthcare professionals, legislators, media, and the general public to increase awareness about the disease.

I also organized a team called Jody’s Psore Joint Journey. We participate in a 5K race held by the National Psoriasis Foundation in Boston each year that raises money for people with psoriatic diseases.

As told to Carina Storrs