By: Lesha Spencer-Brown, MPH, CPH, Program Manager, National Recreation and Park Association
National Arthritis Awareness Month, observed during the month of May, aims to bring awareness to the growing prevalence of arthritis, the need for additional research and advocacy, and to encourage physical activity among the millions of adults with arthritis.
Since 2013, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has been working through local parks and recreation to help people with arthritis manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. NRPA has supported over 240 local park and recreation agencies across the country in the sustained delivery of CDC-recommended arthritis-appropriate evidence-based interventions across 48 states and American Samoa.
According to a program participant who joined the Walk With Ease program offered by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), Department of Parks and Recreation in Prince George’s County, MD, “I feel the difference. My pain has been minimized. I have more energy when I wake up and I have more motivation. I may not be able to walk as fast as some of the others, but I walk at my own pace and I’m okay with that. The more I walk, the better I get.”
State of Arthritis in America
Arthritis—a leading cause of disability characterized by joint pain, swelling, and stiffness—currently affects 1 in 4 (54 million) American adults, and is projected to affect 78 million adults by 2040. Nearly half of people with arthritis are limited in everyday activities such as walking, bending, or lifting a grocery bag. Arthritis is also common among people with heart disease and diabetes. About half of people with heart disease and diabetes report an arthritis diagnosis, which makes it more difficult for them to manage these conditions. While arthritis encompasses more than 100 conditions, the most common forms are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, and fibromyalgia. Arthritis is more prevalent in rural communities. Nearly 1 in 3 adults in rural communities report having arthritis, where 4 in 5 residents report a functional or work disability. Adults with arthritis are twice as likely to suffer from a fall and fall-related injuries.
So, how can people with arthritis effectively manage their symptoms? Adults with arthritis can reduce the effects of their symptoms by being physically active. In fact, low-impact “joint friendly” physical activity is a proven strategy for managing arthritis symptoms and research has shown that physical activity can reduce pain and improve physical function by about 40 percent. However, increased pain, fear of pain, and lack of knowledge of safe forms of physical activity often make it more difficult for people with arthritis to engage in physical activity. As a result, 1 in 3 adults with arthritis are still inactive. To decrease this fear and teach people with arthritis the necessary skills to safely and comfortably engage in physical activity, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a suite of arthritis-appropriate evidence-based physical activity and self-management education programs.
Arthritis Management through Parks and Recreation
NRPA supports the delivery of three CDC-recommended physical activity programs for people with arthritis: Walk With Ease, Fit & Strong!, and Active Living Every Day. These programs allow individuals with arthritis to safely and comfortably engage in “joint-friendly” physical activity (e.g., walking, biking, swimming, etc.), improve balance, reduce risk of falling, socialize, and establish support groups with other adults with arthritis in their communities. These evidence-based programs not only improve physical functionality, they also provide proven measures to manage fatigue, anxiety and depression.
This May, join in the efforts to increase arthritis awareness and encourage someone you know with arthritis to take the leap and engage in safe and effective physical activity programs to improve their physical function and overall quality of life.
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The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is the leading non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of public parks, recreation and conservation. Follow NRPA on Facebook and Twitter for updates about resources, research, and other activities.