Arthritis :: Many people with arthritis skip exercise

People with arthritis are even less likely than the average American to get enough — or any — exercise, a large U.S. study shows.

Among more than 27,000 adults in a national health survey, those with arthritis were less likely to be exercising at levels recommended by health experts: at least 30 minutes of moderate activity, like brisk walking, or 20 minutes of more vigorous exercise, on most days of the week.

“People with arthritis are not meeting physical activity recommendations made at the federal level and by experts in the arthritis field,” study co-author Dr. Jennifer Hootman, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said in a statement.

“That’s not good,” she said, “because we know that being more active is beneficial for arthritis.”

Osteoarthritis arises when the cartilage cushioning the joints begins to wear away, leading to inflammation, pain and stiffness. Though that may seem like an obstacle to exercise, research shows that staying active can help relieve the pain and mobility problems arthritis causes.

Both strength conditioning and cardiovascular activities like walking have been shown to offer benefits.

According to findings published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, only 30 percent of the 6,829 arthritis sufferers in the current survey were getting recommended levels of moderate or vigorous exercise. Twenty percent were regularly performing strengthening exercises.

Moreover, 37 percent of arthritis sufferers said they got no exercise at all. People who had no access to a fitness center, often because of expense or lack of transportation, had some of the highest rates of inactivity. Those with multiple physical limitations were most likely to be sedentary.

In the latter case, it’s not clear whether the inactivity or the disabilities came first, according to Hootman, but it’s known that exercise can help delay arthritis-related disability.

Many people with arthritis worry that exercise will be painful or worsen the damage to their joints. More should be done, the study authors say, to not only reassure people that exercise is safe, but also to better manage their pain in general.

“If we can get people with arthritis over the initial pain barrier by addressing their pain and getting them more active,” Hootman said, “they’ll actually have less pain in the long term.”

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