Physical Activity = Arthritis Therapy

Physical Activity = Arthritis Therapy

Healthnotes Newswire (May 26, 2005)—Regular vigorous physical activity can preserve functioning—such as the ability to work, dress, shop, and cook—that is often impaired in many older people with arthritis, according to Arthritis and Rheumatism (2005;52:1274–82).

Arthritis, a chronic condition characterized by joint pain and stiffness, is most often caused by a wearing away of the cartilage that cushions bone endings in joints, but can also be caused by inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States. Nearly 60% of people aged 65 years or older have arthritis, and more than 10% of these people report that their arthritis limits their ability to function. Treatment usually consists of hot and cold applications, pain-relieving rubs, and pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medicines. Preparations of glucosamine are often recommended to stimulate repair and regeneration of cartilage. Little is known about the effects of lifestyle and other factors on the level of disability caused by the condition over time.

In the current study, 5,715 people with arthritis, aged 65 or older, filled out questionnaires about their arthritis and other health conditions. Level of functioning was determined through answers to questions about limitations in ability to perform specific daily activities, such as walking across the room, dressing, grocery shopping, and making a hot meal. The participants also answered questions about lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, and exercise. This information was gathered at the beginning of the study and after two years. A decline in level of functioning after two years was experienced by 13.6% of the participants who were not already severely limited in their functioning at the beginning of the study. People reporting conditions such as diabetes, history of stroke, dementia, and depression were more likely to experience declining function than those who did not report these conditions. Alcohol consumption was linked to a 20% lower likelihood of declining function. Regular vigorous activity (sports, heavy housework, or physical labor), however, had the greatest protective effect: those who did not engage in vigorous activities had nearly twice the risk of functional decline than those who did.

The results of this study suggest that regular vigorous physical activity can protect against a declining ability to function in elderly people with arthritis. Lack of regular exercise or physical work was found to increase the likelihood of worsening disability. More research is needed to establish whether regular physical activity can be useful in arthritis treatment. Healthcare providers can help people with arthritis by encouraging them to engage in reasonable and enjoyable physical activities.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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