If walking on a hard surface like a track of sidewalk is painful, try taking your walk in a pool. The water's buoyancy can help relieve joint stress and pain – and make it easier to stick with an exercise routine.

“A lot of clients I see tell me a warm pool is heavenly, says Lori Sherlock, an assistant professor in West Virginia University’s department of exercise physiology and a certified instructor of the Arthritis Foundation’s Aquatic program, a warm-water exercise class that includes water walking and is proven to increase strength and flexibility without excess strain on joints.

Physicians and physiologists have warmed to the idea of water walking as therapy and good exercise for people with joint pain and damage, and for good reason. Walking in water offers big benefits,” Sherlock says. For example:

  • Water’s buoyancy reduces the impact on joints.
  • Working out in water can help improve cardiovascular fitness, balance and range of motion.
  • Heated pools – typically 82 to 88 degrees – can help soothe pain. Cooler temps might not make your joints feels as good, but you’ll still reap the workout’s benefits.
  • Water also has greater resistance than air, which means walking in water requires more effort and ultimately burns more calories than walking on land.

Many aquatic centers, YMCAs and community pools have programs designed for people with arthritis. Classes typically fall into three categories: Interval classes combine periods of walking and periods of rest; continuous training classes have participants walk at 70 to 75 percent effort level throughout the workout; and station classes combine flexibility or strength exercises with walking workouts.

Classes take place in water at chest level or in deep water, where participants have no contact with the pool’s floor and are supported by flotation vests.

Deep-water classes are usually more intense and can benefit people with severe pain and joint damage, says Sherlock. These classes take away the impact of gravity and allow joints optimal flexing, which can improve range of motion.

If you are new to exercise or can’t swim, don’t worry. Aquatic walking classes are designed for anyone, including non-swimmers. “You’re not even going to get your hair wet,” says Sherlock.

But by getting your feet wet, you’ll be on your way to walking with ease. To find a class contact your local aquatic center or go to arthritis.org/programs to locate an Arthritis Foundation Aquatic Program near you.