A couple walks outside together on a Fall day.
Get a move on to maintain a positive quality of life for the rest of your life. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Have you ever heard you have to use it or lose it?

This applies to many things in life but especially to exercise. By limiting how much we move, our muscles start to weaken and sag. We suddenly have a hard time bending over, and walking up a flight of stairs seems like work.

“Exercise is medicine,” said Jason Lazor, DO, a specialist in sports medicine and musculoskeletal injuries with Spectrum Health Medical Group Sports Medicine.

In fact, he said research has shown that exercise is as effective as prescription medicine for the management of many chronic diseases.

“Exercise has long been a low-cost therapy for physicians to use to help patients improve their overall health and quality of life,” Dr. Lazor said.

If you suffer from arthritis, achy joints or chronic pain, your doctor has likely encouraged you to move more. While it seems like moving will only make things worse, the opposite is generally true.

“Gentle forms of movement can loosen joints, reduce inflammation, make better use of blood sugar and relieve pain even when you suffer from arthritis, joint problems or chronic pain,” said Kim Delafuente, ACSM-PD, a Spectrum Health community health educator.

The benefits of movement are realized in all facets of life, Dr. Lazor added.

“Even small amounts of exercise can improve sleep and mood, lower risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes,” he said. “Exercise can even slow the effects of aging and decrease risk of dementia and certain types of cancer.”

Plus physical activity can boost your mood and energy level.

Not sure where to start?

Experts offer up these 5 tips to get you on the right path:

1. Start with simple goals

“Every minute adds up,” Dr. Lazor said. “Simply sitting less and moving more can be a great start.”

Taking the stairs, walking the dog or moving around more at your desk can be beneficial. Being active with a friend can turn exercise into a community or social event to share common goals.

Technology has made exercise easier to perform with daily reminders and step counters. Gradually increase your steps and activity each day as your body adjusts and starts making positive changes.

2. Pull up a chair

If pain limits your movement and standing up or walking across the room is even harder, try chair exercise.

“It’s as easy as turning on some music and moving,” Delafuente said. “Don’t worry if you won’t make the cut on Dancing with the Stars. After all, the magic is in the movement not whether your routine is perfect.”

A few minutes several times a day can be a great starting point. Before you know it you can do the same activity standing and may eventually work yourself to the dance floor. Check out this video clip for inspiration.

3. Limber up

Do you have trouble getting out of bed, tying your shoe or lifting things?

The older we get and the less we move, the less flexible we become. To increase flexibility, simple stretches can help you loosen up and relieve tense muscles. Check your posture and make sure you are standing and sitting straight.

If you are looking for more, try yoga, tai chi and pilates.

“These forms of exercise can focus on flexibility and balance,” Dr. Lazor said. “All are important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”

4. Explore water activities

Water exercise is a great option for those with chronic pain and arthritis, Delafuente suggested.

The water takes the stress off your joints and allows you to use more of your muscles. The more you move, the more calories you burn. Also moving through water offers built-in resistance.

Want more of a challenge? Try water weights. If you have arthritis, look for a pool that is kept at warmer temperatures.

5. Press on

Slowly build up to a combination of aerobic and strength activity, Dr. Lazor said. It is easiest to alternate days of aerobic activity with strength training.

Aerobic activity can be done three to five days per week, while strength training can be done two to three days per week.

Aerobic activity can include walking, biking, dancing, swimming and water exercise. Strength training can be done with hand weights, resistance bands, weight machines or using your own body weight.

Toning and strengthening can boost metabolism, and make everyday tasks easier, not to mention help clothes fit better.

Most importantly though, listen to your body.

“You may feel more tired from exercise at first, but as time goes on you will feel energized,” Delafuente said. “Experiment and find a few activities that you enjoy. The more you do it, the easier it gets. The less you move, the harder it gets.”