There are hundreds of different types of arthritis impacting more than 350 million people worldwide and while medication can ease the discomfort in certain types of arthritis, those living with osteoarthritis know there’s no easy way to manage the pain.
While there is currently no cure for the condition that causes inflammation of the bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles, researchers believe just one hour a week of brisk walking is enough to stave off disability in older adults. The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine by researchers from the Northwestern University in Chicago, found that brisk walking staves off disability in people with arthritis pain and those with aches or stiffness in the knee, hip, ankle or foot.
“This is less than 10 minutes a day for people to maintain their independence. It’s very doable,” lead author Dorothy Dunlop said in a statement. “This minimum threshold may motivate inactive older adults to begin their path toward a physically active lifestyle with the wide range of health benefits promoted by physical activity.”
Osteoarthritis impacts 240 million people worldwide and symptomatic knee osteoarthritis is the most common form of this. Two in five people who have osteoarthritis, particularly in their lower joints, develop disability limitations.
The latest study found an hour of weekly moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was associated with older adults still being able to perform daily tasks such as getting dressed or crossing the street before traffic light signals change. In fact, an hour of weekly exercise reduced the risk of mobility disability by 85 per cent.
Meanwhile, the risk of developing a daily living disability (associated with difficulty walking, bathing or dressing) was slashed by almost 45 per cent. Four years into the study, researchers discovered that 24 per cent of participants who didn’t get their weekly hour of brisk physical activity were walking too slowly to safely cross the road and 23 per cent reported problems completing routine tasks such as walking, bathing and dressing.
Data from more than 1,500 adults in the US National Osteoarthritis Initiative, from Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, was analysed as part of the study. Each participant experienced pain, aches or stiffness in lower extremity joints from osteoarthritis but weren’t considered disabled when they began the study.
“Our goal was to see what kind of activity would help people remain free of disability,” Dunlop said.
Older adults with arthritis are encouraged to participate in low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, rowing, Tai Chi, yoga, Pilates, swimming and water aerobics. Meanwhile, moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, bicycle riding, cleaning or tennis are recommended at least 2.5 hours a week for substantial health benefits including reducing the risk for heart disease and many other chronic diseases.
“We hope this new public health finding will motivate an intermediate physical activity goal,” Dunlop added. “One hour a week is a stepping stone for people who are currently inactive. People can start to work toward that.”
The latest research follows the largest genetic study of osteoarthritis to date, where researchers from the Wellcome Sanger Institute discovered new genes and biological pathways associated with osteoarthritis. It is hoped the discovery will identify starting points for new medicines, as well as opportunities for existing medicines to be evaluated. To discover which genes caused osteoarthritis, researchers incorporated additional functional genomic data and analysed gene activity by measuring gene expression down to the protein level.
By incorporating different data sets such as genetic and proteomic data on tissue taken from patients undergoing joint replacement surgery, researchers identified the genes most likely to cause osteoarthritis. They highlighted 10 genes as targets of existing drugs used against osteoarthritis and other diseases.
Osteoarthritis is currently managed with pain relief medication or joint replacement surgery, but outcomes vary from person to person. It is the most prevalent musculoskeletal disease in the world and a leading cause of disability.
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