Although people with arthritis are less likely to be physically active — nearly 44% of adults with arthritis report no leisure-time physical activity — previous studies have shown that low-impact physical activity actually improves pain, function, mood, and quality of life without worsening disease symptoms or severity.
“Getting seniors to be active in any way will generally improve their quality of life and help them function better in their everyday activities,” said Linda Russell, MD, a rheumatologist and chair of the Public and Patient Education Advisory Committee at the Hospital for Special Surgery in a press release. “People believe that if you have arthritis you shouldn’t exercise, but appropriate exercises actually help decrease pain.”
For this study, a program offered by the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in senior centers in the New York City communities of Flushing, Queens and Chinatown aimed to help older Asian adults with arthritis experience less musculoskeletal pain, stiffness, and fatigue; improve balance; reduce falls; and increase physical activity. The program focused on this population because Asian women are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis due to slender builds with lower bone mass, and because they often avoid consuming dairy because of lactose intolerance. In 2010, 25% of Asian seniors aged 65 and older in New York City lived in poverty and had a musculoskeletal condition.
The exercise program was conducted once a week in community centers for older Asian adults and lasted for 8 weeks. Between 2011 and 2015, 370 people participated in the program and 204 responded to surveys before and after participating in the exercise classes. Most of the participants (90%) were women and 76% were between the ages of 65 and 84; 88% of the participants had a musculoskeletal condition.
After the program, participants’ muscle and joint pain decreased 32% from baseline, and many reported that they were better able to perform daily activities. They also experienced improved mobility, with 88% more participants being able to climb several flights of stairs, 66% more able to lift and carry groceries, and 63% more able to bend, kneel, or stoop.
In addition, 91% of participants reported reduced fatigue, 97% reported reduced stiffness, 95% reported improved balance, and 96% felt more confident that exercising would not worsen their symptoms.
“The study results indicate that the hospital’s Bone Health Initiative has a positive impact on the musculoskeletal health of the Asian senior population,” said Huijuan Huang, MPA, the program coordinator at the Hospital for Special Surgery in a press release.
Ms Huang also noted that “providing free exercise programs to the community can play an important role in helping adults manage musculoskeletal conditions.”
Summary and Clinical Applicability
Pain and stiffness often lead patients to avoid using affected joints. This lack of use can result in loss of joint motion, contractures, and muscle atrophy. Thus, exercise plays an important role in prevention and reversal of these potentially disabling conditions. Regular aerobic exercise improves muscle function, joint stability, aerobic capacity, and physical performance over the short-term and can result in improved overall pain control and quality of life, without an increase in disease activity.
Huang J, Ologhobo T, Jin V, Goldsmith S, Robbins L. The effectiveness of a low-impact exercise program on musculoskeletal health of Asian older adults. Presented at: 2015 ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting. November 6-11, 2015; San Francisco, California. Abstract 1193.
This article originally appeared on Clinical Pain Advisor