Understanding arthritis: The benefits of physical activity

Regular exercise can improve the symptoms associated with arthritis such as pain, function, mood and quality of life as well as help those with other chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

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Photo: Pexels.com/Magda Ehlers.

The Arthritis Foundation reports that nearly 60 million (one in four) adults are diagnosed with arthritis, and there are over 100 different arthritis-related conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and fibromyalgia. The symptoms associated with arthritis, such as pain, aching and stiffness, can negatively affect a person’s quality of life. Symptoms may also cause people to experience limitations in walking or climbing stairs, making arthritis a leading cause of disability for adults in this country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), research shows that being physically active could be the most effective “non-drug” method for reducing pain and improving movement. The CDC confirms that participating in arthritis-friendly exercise improves pain, function, mood and quality of life without making the symptoms of this disease worse. Physical activity may also help manage other chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

So where does a person start? Michigan State University Extension recommends that you first talk with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise routine. Since there are over 100 diseases and conditions referred to as arthritis, it is important to consult with a doctor to make sure the type of exercise chosen will benefit your condition without causing injury.

MSU Extension offers the following online and in person classes that can help people with arthritis:

  • Tai Chi for Arthritis and Falls Prevention is an 18 session, evidence-based program, designed for adults with, or without, arthritis. This gentle exercise combines slow movement, deep breathing, and focused intention. The health benefits of participating in a Tai Chi program include:
    • Increasing strength, balance and posture.
    • Preventing falls.
    • Improving mind, body and spirit connections.
    • Reducing stress and increasing relaxation.

  • Walk With Ease is a six-week, evidence-based, walking program that includes stretching and strengthening exercises. This program incorporates discussion on osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia as well as ways to manage pain and stiffness.

  • Personal Action Towards Health (PATH) is an interactive six-week series designed to help participants manage chronic conditions. For people with arthritis, MSU Extension offers Chronic Disease PATH and Chronic Pain PATH (also known as the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program). PATH participants report a number of benefits from attending these programs including:
    • Keeping fatigue, pain and emotional distress from interfering with daily activities.
    • Learning a variety of strategies besides taking medication to manage a chronic condition.
    • Performing different self-management tasks to manage a health condition, reducing the need to see a healthcare provider.

If you have not been active for a while, it’s not too late to start! The CDC's recommendation is to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as walking) every week along with two days of muscle strengthening exercise (for example, weight lifting). Exercise works best if it is spread out during the course of the week, and it can easily be broken into smaller increments of time during the day. The important thing is to start out slow, be realistic about what you can do, and choose activities that you enjoy.

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