Study Shows More Than One Third of Adults with Arthritis are Inactive

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • According to a study published in the May 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, adults with arthritis are significantly less likely than adults without arthritis to engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity at levels recommended by federally Healthy People 2010 and by experts in the fields of arthritis and physical activity. In fact, more than a third of adults with arthritis are inactive.

    Previous studies have shown that both strength training and aerobic exercise benefit people with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis by decreasing pain, delaying disability, improving muscle strength, improving gait and function and decreasing the risk of falls. Physical and psychological benefits resulting from exercise have also been shown for patients with fibromyalgia and systemic lupus erythematosus. The authors of the study note however that increasing physical activity in patients with forms of arthritis is difficult because of misconceptions of harm to the joints and trepidation about increased pain. Previous studies have shown that inactivity contributes to impaired function, deconditioning, an increased risk of obesity, and poor mental health as well as higher medical costs.
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    The researchers analyzed data from the 2002 National Health Interview Survey, which is a national household interview survey designed to represent a cross-section of the U.S. population. The survey results included 6,820 people who had been diagnosed with some form of arthritis (arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout or fibromyalgia) and 20, 676 people without arthritis. The researchers then analyzed responses to questions concerning physical activity with other factors including self-reported medical conditions, functional and social leisure limitations, the respondent’s need for special equipment, age, gender, race/ethnicity, body mass index and frequency of anxiety/depression. The data was analyzed to estimate the number of people meeting four recommendations for physical activity and fitness made by Healthy People 2010 and an arthritis specific recommendation for physical activity developed by a panel of experts in physical activity, arthritis and public health.

    The results of the study show that while there is little difference between percentages of people with and without arthritis who are inactive (37 percent with arthritis and 38 percent without arthritis) and the amount of people in both groups who participate in strength training (20 percent for both), adults with arthritis are significantly less likely to participate in moderate/vigorous activity at the levels recommended by Healthy People 2010. The highest rate of inactivity found is among adults with arthritis who have four or more functional limitations for nine different activities such as walking up 10 steps or standing or sitting for two hours and reaching overhead. These adults also reported limitations in at least one social or leisure activity such as shopping and attending clubs and meetings. They also reported having a need for special equipment and lack of access to fitness facilities.

  • The study also found that people with arthritis are more likely to be older, female, non-Hispanic white, less educated, obese, have frequent anxiety or depression and other medical conditions, have functional or social limitations, need special equipment. These people are also not meeting the recommendations for physical activity. Among women, inactivity is also associated with being Hispanic, non-Hispanic black, having frequent anxiety or depression, social limitation, needing equipment, and not receiving physical activity counseling. For men inactivity was also associated with severe joint pain.
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    The researchers suggest that women are more likely than men to visit their healthcare provider for advice, so gender-specific counseling may be helpful. Women with arthritis were also found to have a higher prevalence of depression and anxiety and the study recommends that healthcare providers should also assess the mental health needs of their patients, especially women. In additions, effective pain management may increase the prevalence of physical activity by limiting pain as a barrier to exercise. The authors also recommend that efforts to promote physical activity should include access to fitness facilities and other programs such as the Arthritis Self-Help Course, the People With Arthritis Can Exercise program and the Arthritis Foundation/ YMCA Aquatics Program. The authors also recommended increasing awareness of both strength training and aerobic activity in older adults.

    Shih M. et. Al. Physical activity in men and women with arthritis. Am J Prev Med 30(5) 2006.

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    Additional Resources
    Arthritis Self-Help Course

    People With Arthritis Can Exercise

    Arthritis Foundation/YMCA Aquatics Program
Published On: April 25, 2006