Convincing Arthritic Mom to Exercise


A Column By Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: My mom is in her 70s and is alert and fairly healthy. She has arthritis, which causes her quite a bit of pain. I’d like to see her be more active, as I think it would be better for her overall, but she says she doesn’t feel like it. I know pain is part of the reason, and I’m sympathetic to that, but won’t she get worse without some exercise? – Richard

Dear Richard: You are right about your mom and her arthritis. Presumably, she has been seeing a doctor about her pain and it is being managed in the best way possible. It is hard to move when you hurt, but if she doesn’t move she will get more stiff and sore than she already is. Most people should move as much as they can without injuring themselves. Many need medical supervision, however.

Has your mother been checked for depression? Sometimes elders don’t want to do things because they are too depressed to care. Does she have a social life? Social connections help keep depression at bay, and it also helps many people to have an exercise buddy. If she has a friend you could talk to, maybe together they could find something active they would enjoy.

The YMCA has warm-water exercise and many people with arthritis rave about it. The warm water feels wonderful on sore joints and water takes the pressure off joints so exercise is less painful. Another idea would be for her doctor to ask a physiologist to prescribe a routine for your mother to do at a clinic gym, if she or he feels that is appropriate.

There are also several good health businesses that offer private trainers and individual routines. A professional could help your mother find a comfort level, and if she went with a friend, they may be able to go on a buddy system.

Even convincing your mother to go for a daily walk would be helpful. We have many groups of older people that walk early in the morning in shopping malls before the stores open or on open high school tracks.

The bottom line, of course, is motivation. You mother has the right to make her own decisions. She would most likely feel much better if she did get some exercise. However, getting started is the hard part.

Tell her you love her and want her to enjoy her life. See if you can corral a friend or two to join her so they can cheer each other on. If she doesn’t want to try any of these options, then I’d just drop it. She may decide on her own, down the road, that she doesn’t like sitting around and misses being active. Once you plant the seed, you may have to wait for a while before it sprouts and produces results, but at least you will have done your best.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at Her blog can be found at