Updated 08 November 2016

Exercise may help people with arthritis

Americans are not getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, which could help them with arthritis.

A new study shows that regular exercise boosts quality of life and reduces health care costs for people with arthritis.

Researchers found that meeting national physical activity guidelines could add up to 20 days of good health in a year for these patients.

However, many Americans are not getting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, in bouts lasting at least 10 minutes each.

Dr Kai Sun, a research trainee at North-Western Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said in a news release from the American College of Rheumatology: "Regular physical activity improves health and reduces mortality in the general population.

"Physical activity promotes arthritis-specific health benefits, as well as function and psychosocial outcomes and reduced disability.

What is osteoarthritis?

Despite these benefits," Sun noted, "the majority of adults in the US do not attain the recommended amounts of physical activity."

One type of arthritis – osteoarthritis – which is most common among middle-aged or older adults, causes progressive damage to the cartilage, or cushioning at the end of long bones. This damage can lead to pain, swelling or limited movements around the joint.

Knee osteoarthritis is one form of the joint disease that may be worsened by excess weight. A person's age, certain injuries, stress on the joints and having a family history of the condition also increase people's risk for osteoarthritis.

Conducting the study

Using results from a nationwide study sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health, a team of researchers examined physical activity levels and the quality-adjusted life years (a standard measurement of quality of life and cost-effectiveness of medical treatment) of 4 700 adults diagnosed with or at risk for arthritis of the knee.

The researchers measured the physical activity levels of the participants for one week using a device called an accelerometer. They then divided the participants into three groups:

One group included those who were meeting national physical activity guidelines; the second group included participants who were not active enough, but did engage in some moderate to vigorous activity; and the third group included those who were inactive.

The researchers measured the participants' physical activity level and quality-adjusted life years when the study began and again two years later.

Results of the study

Over the course of the study period, the quality-adjusted life years of participants who met the guidelines for physical activity were higher than those who were somewhat active or inactive, the investigators found.

The difference translated into between 10 and 20 more days of good health in one year.

The researchers noted that even if the national guidelines are not met, increasing physical activity in any way could enhance quality of life, add years of health and lower overall health care costs for people with arthritis.

Read more:

Three kinds of exercise that can improve arthritis

Arthritis patients need to exercise more


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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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