Even a Little Exercise Is Better Than None

By Pat Anson, Editor

We often hear from pain sufferers who say they’d like to exercise more, but can’t because their pain levels have left them bedridden or stuck on a couch. Others believe a workout at the gym will only make their pain worse.

But two new studies have found that you don’t need to be a gym rat to get the health benefits from exercise.

You may not even need to stand up!

Federal guidelines suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise a week are needed to promote good cardiovascular health. But researchers at Northwestern University wanted to see if a lesser goal could improve overall health.

They measured the physical activity of 1,600 adults with osteoarthritis in their hips, knees or feet; and found that just 45 minutes of moderate physical activity a week improved their function and reduced pain

"We were interested in seeing what kind of physical activity might be beneficial to promote good function down the road,” said Dorothy Dunlop, a professor of rheumatology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“We found moderate-intensity activity rather than light activity, such as pushing a grocery cart, to be more valuable to promote future function."

Using sophisticated accelerometers to monitor movement, the researchers found that participants who engaged in moderate activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 45 minutes a week were 80 percent more likely to improve or sustain high future function.

The findings, published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research., were true for both men and women. The beneficial effects of the exercise were also long term. About a third of participants improved or had high function after two years.

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"The federal guidelines are very important because the more you do, the better you'll feel and the greater the health benefits you'll receive," Dunlop said. "But even achieving this less rigorous goal will promote the ability to function and may be a feasible starting point for older adults dealing with discomfort in their joints.”

"Even a little activity is better than none," she added

Chair Yoga Relieves Pain of Osteoarthritis

A second study at Florida Atlantic University found that “chair yoga” is an effective way to reduce pain and improve quality of life in older adults with osteoarthritis.

As the name implies, the Sit-N-Fit Chair Yoga program was developed to help those who cannot stand during exercise or participate in traditional yoga. Chair yoga is practiced sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support.

IMAGE COURTESY OF FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY

IMAGE COURTESY OF FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY

In a study of 131 older adults who have osteoarthritis, participants attended 45-minute chair yoga sessions twice a week for 8 weeks.

Researchers measured their pain, pain interference (how it affects one's life), balance, gait speed, fatigue and functional ability; before, during and after the sessions.

Compared to a control group enrolled in a health education program, the chair yoga group showed a greater reduction in pain, pain interference and fatigue during the sessions, as well as an improved gait. The reduction in pain interference lasted for about three months after the chair yoga program was completed.

"The effect of pain on everyday living is most directly captured by pain interference, and our findings demonstrate that chair yoga reduced pain interference in everyday activities," said Ruth McCaffrey, emeritus professor in FAU's College of Nursing and co-author of the study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"The potential impact of this study on public health is high, as this program provides an approach for keeping community-dwelling elders active even when they cannot participate in traditional exercise that challenges their balance," said co-author and principal investigator Patricia Liehr, PhD, a professor in FAU's College of Nursing.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and the leading cause of long-term disability in older adults. It affects about a third of Americans over the age of 65.