Why To Do Yoga Today: Some Relief For Arthritis Sufferers

Santa Catalina School/Flickr

Santa Catalina School/Flickr

A relative in her 90s recently mentioned she does “floor yoga” at the local YMCA. When I asked what that was, she replied: “We stay on the floor and don’t stand up.” Hey, whatever works.

Yoga is inescapable: A 2012 estimate puts the number of people who practice yoga in the U.S. at 1 in 10 adults or about 20 million people. But these are mostly fit women in snug, stylish pants. What about people who have a lot more trouble moving?

A recent report by researchers at Johns Hopkins found that yoga may benefit the not-so-fit as well: a randomized trial of 75 adults (mostly white, educated women) afflicted with two common forms of arthritis found yoga can be both safe and effective for improving pain, energy, mood and for carrying out daily activities. This is not trivial. While exercise has been found to greatly improve some of the symptoms on arthritis, the leading cause of disability affecting 1 in 5 adults, many sufferers aren’t exercising. From the study, published in the Journal of Rheumatology: “…despite the well-known benefits of physical activity, up to 44% of people with arthritis report no leisure time physical activity and 76% are inadequately active.”

Researchers report improvements after just 8 weeks. From the news release:

Compared with the control group, those doing yoga reported a 20% improvement in pain, energy levels, mood and physical function, including their ability to complete physical tasks at work and home. Walking speed also improved to a smaller extent, though there was little difference between the groups in tests of balance and upper body strength. Improvements in those who completed yoga was still apparent nine months later.

There here is one big caveat: 24% of participants dropped out of yoga, but, as the researchers note, “persistence was still higher than in many exercise programs, with most attending the majority of classes.”

I asked study author Dr. Susan Bartlett, an associate professor in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and McGill University Health Centre, what she would tell patients with arthritis who are currently sedentary about how to approach yoga. Here’s what she wrote:

I would tell them that physical activity is important for everyone, but especially important for people with arthritis, who tend to be less active than the average American.

Often people with arthritis worry that they will aggravate their joints and be in worse pain as a result of being active.  While it is true that certain types of activity (anything percussive like jogging, tennis, skiing) are probably not advisable, keeping muscles moving and joints limber is very important. We’re learning how dangerous under-activity can be (emerging evidence suggests that a sedentary lifestyle is as problematic to health as smoking).

Results of our study suggest that yoga appears to be a safe and effective option for adults who wish to become more active. Further, many people who don’t enjoy traditional activity find that they really enjoy yoga. Yoga is a mind body activity, and while almost all forms of physical activity are associated with both mental and physical health benefits, yoga in particular helps with stress reduction, mood, learning to listen to and respect what your body is capable of doing today. Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today: Your Poor Knees

If you don’t have arthritis now, chances are you will eventually. According to the CDC, one-fifth of all American adults have been diagnosed with the painful joint disease, and one-half of adults over 65.

And when it hurts to move, you should avoid it, right? Wrong, in the case of arthritis. NPR’s Patti Neighmond reports here today that federal guidelines say people with arthritis should get 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day — but most don’t. Now here’s the part that could help jolt all of us off the couch, even if our joints are healthy for now:

So why is moving, and exercise, so important?

Arthritis slowly breaks down the body’s natural shock absorbers, the cartilage, that jelly-like substance between our bones and in our joints. When that happens, blood doesn’t circulate as freely and doesn’t deliver adequate nutrition to the cartilage. All the cartilage nutrition, says Altman, comes through the joint. Massaging the joint through exercise helps get the blood supply going which, in turn, helps cartilage take in nutrition.

‘Six times your body weight goes through the inside of the knee.’

Another big plus for exercising through arthritis pain: Muscles surround the joint, and when muscles are bigger and stronger, the joint is more protected. Continue reading

Why To Exercise — Lightly — Today: Arthritis

A recent report from the Radiological Society of North America says that heavy high-impact exercise — like running — appears to promote arthritis; but lighter-impact exercise — like walking — seems to protect joints:

CHICAGO – People at risk for osteoarthritis may be able to delay the onset of the disease or even prevent it with simple changes to their physical activity, according to a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“According to the results of our study, participating in a high-impact activity, such as running, more than one hour per day at least three times a week appears associated with more degenerated cartilage and potentially a higher risk for development of osteoarthritis,” said the study’s senior author Thomas M. Link, M.D., professor of radiology and chief of musculoskeletal imaging at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). “On the other hand, engaging in light exercise and refraining from frequent knee-bending activities may protect against the onset of the disease.”