Preventing and Relieving Arthritis Pain: Is it Really as Easy as a Walk in the Park?

One of the most effective ways to prevent arthritis and relieve arthritis pain isn’t complicated and doesn’t cost a dime. Getting your heart rate up and keeping it up—30 minutes a day, five days a week—is a proven method for reducing the risk of arthritis and relieving the pain, stiffness and fatigue associated with this disease.

That adds up to 2.5 hours a week of moderate physical activity, the kind you get from a brisk walk around the neighborhood or gardening in your yard. Such a simple prescription should come as good news to all Oregonians, especially the more than 827,000 Oregonians who live with doctor-diagnosed arthritis.

Unfortunately, many of us face real barriers to getting even this modest amount of preventive and pain-relieving activity. This may be particularly true for communities most affected by arthritis. Thirty-six percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives in Oregon live with the disease, compared to 27 percent of whites.

One of those barriers affects all of us, whether or not we have arthritis: We simply don’t move as much as we once did.

Physical activity used to be built into daily life. Now, we drive cars instead of walking. Nearly 1 in 2 employed adults in Oregon (46%) spend most of their work days sitting, according to annual health surveys of state residents. At home, technologies save time and stress—but also enable us to sit more and move less.

Additional barriers exist for Oregonians in communities where the physical environments, or individual life circumstances, make it difficult to move enough each day:

  • Having no safe place to walk or play outside your home is a barrier to physical activity.
  • Having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet leaves little time for physical activity.

And of course, arthritis pain itself can be a barrier to physical activity. It’s hard to move when you’re hurting.

Expanding opportunities for Oregonians to overcome these barriers to physical activity—and ultimately, to good health—is a big part of our work at the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), specifically in the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention section. That work includes the “Physical Activity: The Arthritis Pain Reliever” campaign, a joint effort of OHA and its community partners, Oregon State University Extension Service and Portland Community College.

The ongoing campaign, funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, supports “Walk with Ease” classes in Oregon counties and tribes. This research-based Arthritis Foundation program helps people prevent and manage their arthritis through regular physical activity. In addition, Oregon’s Living Well with Chronic Conditions and EnhanceFitness are also beneficial to people with arthritis and other chronic conditions.

Importantly, such efforts to make good health accessible to anyone in Oregon extend well beyond OHA. Individuals, community groups and organizations across our state are working to make neighborhoods more walkable; to make active modes of transportation more available; and to help employers create healthier workplaces—to name only a few examples. This work is critical because getting enough physical activity does more than prevent arthritis and relieve its pain.

Together with healthy eating and avoiding tobacco use, regular physical activity can help prevent a range of chronic diseases—including diabetes, cancer and heart disease—that affect more than 1.7 million Oregon adults.

When we make it easier for more Oregonians to get the physical activity they want and need to prevent or manage these diseases, we improve the lives of our family members and friends, reduce healthcare costs and create a healthier, stronger state for us all.

That said, all this talk about physical activity is making me restless.

Who’s ready for a walk?

To find a program in your area, you can call 1-888-576-7414, the Oregon Self-Management Help Line, or visit http://public.health.oregon.gov/PreventionWellness/SelfManagement/Pages/index.aspx.

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