All programs took place in North Carolina. The majority of participants were women (86%), and the mean age was 68 years.
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Explore This IssueJanuary 2011
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Dr. Callahan and fellow investigators found that, across the board, participants had improvements in their physical symptoms and decreases in pain, fatigue, and stiffness. The majority also had improvements in lower extremity strength, mobility, and endurance.
Dr. Callahan shared the following comments from one typical participant: “I’m so glad I started walking. It lowers my blood pressure, and my sugar is better. It improves everything.” Dr. Callahan’s presentation also included news clips from some local TV stations that profiled the benefits of the exercise programs.
Reaching Out to Patients
The results from the four exercise programs and the related studies come with a number of lessons for rheumatologists and researchers, Dr. Callahan believes.
First, for anyone who wants to encourage exercise in this patient population group, they should try to recruit well-trained instructors with whom patients can identify. They should also use success stories to promote the program and tout the value of positive study results—however, Dr. Callahan cautions against providing too much information. In other words, patients may want to know that study results are credible and effective, but they don’t necessarily want to know all of the study details.
Those creating programs should aim to offer transportation to and from classes (perhaps by partnering with senior centers that have buses), offer programs before or after lunch, encourage buddy systems (but also offer the flexibility to exercise independently, which is an option that more men seemed to choose), and maintain regular contact with participants. Dr. Callahan’s program sent New Year’s cards to remind participants about their last follow-up.
Physicians and researchers alike should make a point to inform arthritis patients of community programs that they might enjoy. “We need to think about the things we can do to keep something embedded in the community,” she said.
Physicians should encourage active adults with arthritis to exercise at moderate intensity for two hours and 30 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day for five days a week, Dr. Callahan said. Older adults should also include in their regimen programs that promote balance. Remind patients that they can do their exercise in 10-minute increments.
Encourage patients to start slow and be realistic. “[They] do not have to join a gym and put on spandex,” she said. Physicians can also serve as a role model for patients by taking part in their own personal exercise routines, she added.