SALT LAKE CITY — Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among Utahns and in the nation and regular activity is being touted as the best way to combat its limiting effects on the body.
"Often, people with arthritis feel like they can't be physically active, or don't want to be, because of the pain. But staying sedentary actually increases the risk of injury," said Utah Department of Health Arthritis Program Manager Rebecca Castleton. "Physical activity is the best prescription for managing the disease."
Of the more than 415,000 Utah adults diagnosed with arthritis, about 57,000 report that moderate or vigorous physical activity is not a part of their lifestyle, according to UDOH data.
However, of those who do exercise regularly, the activity is somewhat therapeutic.
"My doctor told me I would end up in a wheelchair if I didn't keep moving," said Eleanor Greenland, who recently attended the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program at the Kearns Senior Center. She said the class has helped her stay away from needing many pain medications.
"When I exercise, I don't have as much pain," Greenland said.
Exercise can also halt progressive arthritis, according to Margaret Crowell, who teaches a weekly exercise program for people with arthritis at Mt. Olympus Senior Center in Holladay. The slow, gentle exercises have saved her own hands from becoming too swollen to continue doing the things she loves.
"I'm really tickled because I didn't want to get big, swollen thumbs and didn't want it to progress into other fingers," she said. "I'm a knitter and use the typewriter, so I consider it a big success because I'm still going along and my thumbs are virtually pain free."
The class not only teaches participants how to keep inflammation down, but also provides a network of people going through similar issues.
"We laugh and have fun," Crowell said. "I encourage participants to do the exercises at home for 15 minutes every day to keep up progress. They can do them while sitting down, or even while reading or knitting."
The UDOH partners with many groups to offer arthritis education and physical activity programs. To find one in your area, or to learn more about local efforts to address arthritis, visit www.health.utah.gov/arthritis or call 801-538-9458.