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Arthritis Awareness Month - Exercise

  • Published: 2009-09-01 (Revised/Updated 2010-01-17) : Author: The Arthritis Society
  • Synopsis: While there is currently no cure for arthritis, exercise plays an important role in treating the disease and minimizing damage to the joints.

Main Document

Almost two-thirds of Canadians struggling with arthritis believe
that physical activity poses the risk of aggravating their symptoms, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Arthritis Society. This percentage was considerably higher than the general population who responded at 46 per cent, as indicated by the Ipsos Reid survey.

Canadians with arthritis are urged to get moving during Arthritis Awareness Month

Almost two-thirds of Canadians struggling with arthritis believe that physical activity poses the risk of aggravating their symptoms, according to a recent poll commissioned by The Arthritis Society. This percentage was considerably higher than the general population who responded at 46 per cent, as indicated by the Ipsos Reid survey.

"As long as this mis-perception persists, many Canadians with arthritis will be reluctant to include physical activity as part of their treatment program," says Steven McNair, President and CEO of The Arthritis Society. "We are using Arthritis Awareness Month in September to spread the message that active living can be sustained by most people with arthritis and is vital to their long-term health."

Arthritis, among the leading causes of disability in Canada, affects nearly 4.5 million people of every age and ethnic background. Arthritis can be caused by joint inflammation or joint degeneration. People with arthritis often find that their ability to perform daily tasks is limited due to the effects of the disease and often become less active in an attempt to keep their joints as comfortable as possible. In fact, inactivity can lead to a loss of strength, reduced flexibility and more pain. While there is currently no cure for arthritis, exercise plays an important role in treating the disease and minimizing damage to the joints.

"The benefits of physical activity for people with arthritis are remarkable," notes Dr. Joanne Homik, Chair of The Arthritis Society's Medical Advisory Committee. "Exercise protects joints by strengthening the muscles around them. Strong muscles and tissues support those joints that have been weakened and damaged by arthritis. A properly designed program of physical activity reduces joint pain and fatigue, improves mobility and overall fitness, and alleviates depression. I tell people with arthritis that, ultimately, when they stay physically active, they can have a more productive, enjoyable life."

Research has shown that a disproportionate number of people with osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in Canada, are overweight or obese. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, people who were obese were three times more likely to get hip or knee joint replacements, compared to people with an acceptable weight. People who were overweight were twice as likely to have a joint replacement. Over 90 per cent of annual joint replacement surgeries in Canada are the result of the end stage of joint damage caused by osteoarthritis.

The lifestyle choices that people with arthritis make can significantly impact how their disease progresses and do not require as much effort as is commonly assumed. Vincent Richer, an Ottawa resident, was contemplating life in a wheelchair when he developed severe osteoarthritis a few years ago. Overweight and inactive, Vincent took action to manage his pain by taking up swimming and modifying his diet. "I realized that the barriers to treating my condition were as much mental as physical," he says. "I was worried that any degree of activity would be too much for me to handle. Yet, once I convinced myself that being active was necessary, it was that much easier to get started."

The results were lifesaving. "I am now mostly pain-free and can move with ease," Mr. Richer continues. "The most surprising thing to me was that it did not take a dramatic change in lifestyle to keep my arthritis under control. I would still be in agony if I had not decided to get active. I now look forward to each day."

To help Canadians with arthritis make active living part of their daily routine, The Arthritis Society has just published a new Physical Activity & Arthritis booklet. This free resource, available in print and online, includes valuable tips and a detailed list of physical activities and exercises that are recommended for people with arthritis and joint pain. To inquire about this booklet or for information about The Arthritis Society's programs, services and research initiatives, call the toll-free Arthritis Information Line at 1.800.321.1433. Before starting any new exercise program, always check with your health-care provider to ensure you are physically ready.

About The Arthritis Society

The Arthritis Society is Canada's principal arthritis health charity that empowers the nearly 4.5 million Canadians with arthritis to live their lives to the fullest by combating the daily limitations of arthritis. In the last 60 years, The Society has invested more than $165 million towards arthritis research to develop better treatments and, ultimately, find a cure.

About the Survey

The 2009 Physical Activity and Arthritis Survey was responded to by 1,000 Canadian adults, 18 years of age or older, using the online Canadian Ipsos Reid Express Omnibus. The results of the survey are considered accurate to within Plus/Minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Online questioning was conducted between July 6 and 13, 2009.


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