Being physically active is one of best ways people with arthritis can improve their health, but a new study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine shows that more than half of women and 40 percent of men with arthritis are virtually couch potatoes.

This is the first study to use a device to objectively measure the physical activity of people with arthritis and determine if they meet federal guidelines. Past research relied on self-reported accounts of exercise and activity.

Researchers asked more than 1000 people with radiographic knee osteoarthritis to wear an accelerometer---a small, sophisticated device that looks like a pedometer---to measure their physical activity for one week during waking hours. The participants are part of a larger national study called the Osteoarthritis Initiative and are 49 to 84 years old.

“We had assumed that people might be overstating physical activity in past self-reported data, but were surprised to find that the physical activity rates were much, much lower than what was previously reported,” said Dorothy Dunlop, associate professor of medicine at Feinberg and lead author of the study.

Physical activity can help people with arthritis better control and lower pain and improve general function. Some studies indicate exercise may delay or even prevent disability in people with arthritis, Dunlop said.

The federal guidelines recommend that adults with arthritis participate in 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, low-impact activity. That amounts to an average of slightly more than 20 minutes per day. Previous studies estimated that a quarter of people with arthritis met those guidelines.

“This study found that fewer than one in seven men and one in 12 women met those guidelines when we had this objective measure, using the accelerometer,” said Dunlop a health services researcher who also is with the Institute for Healthcare Studies at Feinberg. “The more alarming finding is that so many people actually qualified as being inactive.”

Participants were deemed inactive if they failed to sustain a 10-minute period of moderate-to-vigorous activity over the entire week of wearing the accelerometer. A substantial 40.1 percent of men and 56.5 percent of women studied were found to be inactive.

While more than half of men engaged in significantly more moderate-to-vigorous activity than women, the majority of men who didn’t fall into this category were spending their time in no to very light activity.

“The fact that so many people with arthritis are inactive should be a wake-up call to physicians,” Dunlop said.

Brisk walks and water aerobics are two recommended activities for people with arthritis, but Dunlop said patients should talk with their physician about any concerns before starting an exercise program.

“Even though they have joint disease, patients need to be reminded that physical activity is actually good for them,“ Dunlop said. “People with arthritis should be as physically active as possible, even if they accomplish less than the recommended levels. When it comes to physical activity, there is good evidence that the benefits far outweigh the risks and being inactive is especially detrimental to health.”

The study was published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, August 2011.

Source:   Northwestern Newscenter, Erin White



Excellent article. I have 52 years and started to practice water aerobics 5 years ago. Honestly changed my life. I feel younger and harder. Very good blog.

It really is astounding how much the trend of physical inactivity has been growing over the years- and that trend is a scary one! I definitely agree that many people have a tendency to overestimate how much physical activity they actually engage in on a day-to-day basis. It's nice to see that simply incorporating more movement into a daily routine can make such a big difference for people suffering from arthritis.

Yes, physical movement can convert to good mood for most people. Good mood is a great "medicine" for all and sickens.

As much as exercise is good for everyone, it is also important to avoid stiffness after exercise. This is even more important to people with arthritis, a full body cool down including static stretching and low intensity exercises are essential.

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Thanks a lot for your reply anyway.

Good article.. unfortunately i was diagnosed with arthritis at a young so hurts in the winter, so im always on the look out for vital info that will ease my pain : )

With arthritis in the lower back comes stiffness. Sometimes people with arthritis in their lower back who have sat for awhile will stand for a few seconds and then walk slowly at first because their hamstrings have stiffened and tightened, making walking difficult for the first few steps. Stretching the hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes occasionally during the day can help relieve some of this stiffness.

Excellent article!!!

Low-impact workouts that are easy on the joints. Vary-of-movement exercises and arthritis. Vary-of-motion workout routines enhance the pliability and motion of stiff joints.

Thank you for this very interesting article!

As a person with arthritis in both knees and in need of knee replacements I understand those people that don't exercise like they should because their knees hurt. Period. People with osteoarthritis in their knees would love to walk, but become sedentary because they want to avoid the pain. Some people actually want to "baby" their knees, thinking this will prevent them from getting worse.

Many times primary care physicians just don't seem to know enough about exercise and arthritis. If they were better informed they could tell their patients which exercise machines at the gym to avoid, for example telling them that the exercise bike and eliptical machine may not hurt their knees, but the treadmill is more likely to make their knees hurt, or that certain weight machines could make their knees worse.

EDITOR'S COMMENT: This writer makes a good point. Water aerobics is another painless way to get moving.

I have found that walking with a pedometer has kept me moving. It gives me instant feedback about my daily activity.

With arthritis in the lower back comes stiffness. Sometimes people with arthritis in their lower back who have sat for awhile will stand for a few seconds and then walk slowly at first because their hamstrings have stiffened and tightened, making walking difficult for the first few steps.

It's the old story of use it or lose it. The body has an amazing capacity to change in response to the demands we put in it (or don't!). It's about keeping the level of activity at a therapeutic level rather than an uncomfortable one. I think most people, even with out arthritis, will find that the more they stay still the more they get stiff.

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