Still, working past such discouragements is possible.  Here’s how:

  • Know what exercise can accomplish. “Ask your doctor what the best [exercise] is for you and why you should be doing it,” says Ray Marks, EdD, who researches OA and exercise adherence as an adjunct professor of Health and Behavior Studies at Columbia University in New York City.

     “Ask for clear written instructions and [exercise] pictures.” Patients need confidence that they can do the exercise their doctor recommends, she says.

  • Set specific but realistic exercise goals.“Our participants set how many days and minutes a week they would exercise, based on individual capacity and tolerance,” says Focht.  The overarching goal was to progress toward 150 minutes per week set by the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

  • Exercise throughout the day. If walking 30 consecutive minutes feels impossible because of pain or fatigue, says Focht, take three 10-minute walks through the day. “Participants found that plan motivating and felt the exercise was less time consuming,” he says.

    Marks suggests integrating exercise naturally, say, by getting off one stop early on public transportation, climbing office stairs or walking in a mall with a friend. “You add exercise without having to sweat or go to a gym.”

  • Join a walking group. Although some people like to exercise alone, for others socializing can be a huge motivating factor, says Brosseau.

    “Tell your doctor you need to be in a group,” agrees Marks. “Ask if there are community-based walking programs.”

  • Track your progress. “Many participants enjoyed using pedometers, an easy way to assess how much [walking] they’re doing,” says Focht.

    Participants also kept a daily log of exercise. “When many began, they couldn’t walk one lap around the gym,” says Focht.  “After 12 weeks, those people were walking 5 to 10 minutes at a time without stopping.”  Others could climb stairs or carry groceries for the first time in years.  “Doing things they thought they couldn’t do anymore became a huge motivator,” says Focht.

  • Explore your neighborhood. “One common barrier to exercise is a lack of access to places where you can be active,” says Focht. “We asked patients to find walking trails or other resources around their neighborhoods.  One person created a walking trail in her house, a path from kitchen to living to dining room.”  You don’t always have to find a close-by park or shopping mall, he says.