Just 45 Minutes Of Activity Per Week Is the New Normal for Adult Arthritis Sufferers

In Aged Care

It’s well understood that older adults suffering from arthritis need movement to stay mobile. For years, the recommended exercise threshold was set at 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. While this amount of exercise posed a challenge for seniors, this was the minimum thought necessary to stave off serious illness, creeping disability and premature death.

Now a new study by Northwestern Medicine has revealed just 45 minutes of activity a week (one-third of the original level) yields benefits with some participants enjoying up to 80 percent improvement in their lower limb function.

Exercising Can be Physically Intimidating For Older Adults

In the United States, only one in ten older American adult suffering from arthritis in their knees were able to meet the guidelines, prompting Northwestern Medicine’s researchers to look for a less intimidating activity goal to get senior Americans on their feet and moving. The team found the magic number was 45 minutes of activity per week.

Around one-third of the study’s participants improved or had a higher function after two years. Those participants engaging in 45 minutes of weekly activity were around 80 percent more likely to show improved or sustained higher functionality over two years compared with those doing less, compared to those participants doing less. Happily, the findings were identical for men and women.

Less Is Better Than None

First author Dorothy Dunlop, professor of rheumatology and preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, found “Even a little activity is better than none.” Professor Dunlop went on to explain, “For those older people suffering from arthritis who are minimally active, a 45-minute minimum might feel more realistic.”

Published in the December 28, 2016, edition of the journal Arthritis Care & Research, the study is a rare exploration of the exercise forms and intensity levels older adults need to remain functional. As Dunlop said, “The federal guidelines are very important because the more you do, the better you’ll feel and the greater the health benefits you’ll receive,” Dunlop added, “But even achieving this less rigorous goal will promote the ability to function and may be a feasible starting point for older adults dealing with discomfort in their joints.”

The U.S. guidelines specified promote good cardiovascular health through 150 minutes of moderate activity done in sessions lasting at least 10 minutes. By contrast, Dunlop and her team explored what was needed to keep their participants functioning over the two years of the study.

As Dunlop observed, “We’re looking for an older population who can be functionally independent.” Dunlop then expanded. “And we were interested in seeing what kind of physical activity might be beneficial to promote good function down the road. We found moderate-intensity activity rather than light activity, such as pushing a grocery cart, to be more valuable to promote future function.”

Dunlop believed identifying the intensity of activity that older adults need to remain functional has never been systematically examined in previous studies. Dunlop and her team adopted sophisticated movement-monitoring accelerometers to measure the physical activity of 1,600 adults sourced from the nationwide research study, Osteoarthritis Initiative. Each of the participants had pain, aching or stiffness in their hips, knees or feet.

Study Conclusion

As Dunlop explained, “We found the most effective type of activity to maintain or improve your function two years later was moderate activity, and it did not need to be done in sessions lasting 10 minutes or more, as recommended by federal guidelines.”