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Even modest rates of physical activity can improve the functioning of middle-age adults with arthritis

Physical activity is important for maintaining functional ability in middle-age adults with arthritis, concludes a study supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS10283). Northwestern University investigators analyzed data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to determine the effect of physical activity on changes in self-reported physical functioning among 3,544 HRS survey respondents age 53 to 64 years in 1994 who had arthritis and joint symptoms. About half found it difficult to climb stairs or walk due to their arthritis.

The study revealed that people suffering from arthritis who engaged in moderate physical activity were less likely to decline in functioning in the next 2 years compared with their more sedentary counterparts. The researchers used respondents' baseline (1992-1994) average physical activity levels (calculated from leisure time and work-related physical activity) to predict change in self-reported physical functioning at followup (1994-1996). The participants' physical activity was compared at three levels: recommended physical activity level (at least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 or more days a week or at least 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least 3 days a week); less-than-recommended activity level (moderate physical activity for less than 30 minutes a day or less than 3 days a week or less than 20 minutes of vigorous activity less than 3 days a week); and inactive level (less than 10 minutes of daily moderate or vigorous activity).

Nearly 30 percent of respondents reported functional declines by 1996, while 39 percent of those with baseline functional difficulties in 1994 reported improvement. By 1996, 27 percent of those at the recommended physical activity level and 29 percent of those at a less-than-recommended activity level experienced functional declines compared with 37 percent of respondents at the inactive level. Work-related physical activity was not a significant predictor of functional decline or improvement. However, few of the sampled group engaged in work-related activity, so this may not have been a good indicator.

See "Effect of physical activity on functional status among older middle-age adults with arthritis," by Joe Feinglass, Ph.D., Jason A. Thompson, B.A., Xiaoxing Z. He, M.D., and others, in the December 15, 2005, Arthritis & Rheumatism 53(6), pp. 879-885.

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