I’ve observed quite a few people, seniors and not quite seniors, who are diagnosed with arthritis and then gradually slow down and stop moving. They stop climbing stairs and taking walks. According to a recent study this may be precisely the wrong thing to do.
In 2000 the Department of Health and Human Services came up with a list of health goals, called Healthy People 2010 (note there are now 2020 goals as well). Health leaders believed these goals were achievable within ten years, not by significant scientific breakthroughs, but by using existing knowledge and redoubling efforts to apply it to the population at large. One of the goals focused on arthritis diagnosis, education, and treatment.
Recently an article published in the Annals of Family Medicine, Monitoring Healthy People 2010 Arthritis Management Objectives: Education and Clinician Counseling for Weight Loss and Exercise (PDF), described the health care system’s success, and lack of it, when physicians and health care workers encourage arthritis patients to lose weight, attend arthritis education classes, and exercise.
CDC’s own statistics indicate that arthritis causes more disability than diseases such as cancer and even Alzheimer’s, largely because so many people are diagnosed with the disease, and it gets worse as people gain weight and exercise less. A large portion of the U.S. population is gaining a dangerous amount of weight. Based on 2007-2009 National Health Interview Survey, 50 million people have self-reported doctor diagnosed arthritis. Moreover, arthritis is constantly in the news, and to illustrate part of a St. Petersburg Times article, Arthritis Causes More Disability than Any Other Disease, listed the number of arthritis headlines from just one week in December 2010.
The Annals of Family Medicine article reported that physicians are more effective at counseling people to lose weight, however doctors are less effective at getting patients into exercise classes or into arthritis education classes. The authors believe that patients’ conditions can improve significantly if their physicians can get them to participate in exercise and education. In the article they state:
Physical activity is recognized to reduce pain and disability and increase function, whereas self-management education for arthritis has been shown to improve the health of an adult with doctor diagnosed arthritis by 15% to 30% more than medication alone.
Perhaps doctors should tell arthritis patients, “Don’t stop moving!” Moreover, those of us with senior parents need to be especially concerned that they continue to exercise as much as possible.
An article in U.S. News and World Report gives even more information.