Exercise Improves Pain and Mobility of Seniors

By Pat Anson, Editor

A low-impact exercise program can significantly reduce pain and improve mobility for older adults with arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions, according to the Hospital for Special Surgery (HHS) in New York City.

For several years HHS has offered exercise programs at senior centers in Chinatown, Flushing, and Queens – and tracked the health of those who participated. The hospital’s most recent findings are being presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology/Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals in San Francisco.

"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 HHS. "People believe that if you have arthritis you shouldn't exercise, but appropriate exercises actually help decrease pain."

The eight-week exercise programs began in 2011 and are held once a week. They were originally developed for Asian seniors 65 and older, many of whom lived in poverty and suffered from musculoskeletal conditions.

The low-impact exercises included pilates, yoga, yoga-lates (a combination of yoga and pilates), t’ai chi and dance, and were led by certified instructors.

In surveys of over 200 participants, most reported that they experienced less pain and were better able to perform activities of daily living. Muscle and joint pain were reduced by nearly a third and mobility improved dramatically:

  • 88% more participants could climb several flights of stairs
  • 66% more participants could lift/carry groceries
  • 63% more participants could bend, kneel, or stoop
  • 91% of participants felt the program reduced their fatigue
  • 97% of participants felt that the program reduced their stiffness
  • 95% of participants felt their balance improved
  • 96% of participants felt more confident that exercising would not make their symptoms worse

"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, program coordinator. "Providing free exercise programs to the community can play an important role in helping adults manage musculoskeletal conditions."

An earlier study at HHS found that exercise decreases pain, reduces the severity and frequency of falls, and improves the balance of people suffering from osteoarthritis. Exercise also improved their quality and enjoyment of life.