Regular Exercise Helps Reduce Pain in Seniors

Regular Exercise Helps Reduce Pain in Seniors

Weekly exercise and yoga classes helped decrease pain, improve mobility, and enhance the overall health of senior citizens in New York City.

The exercise program, offered by Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) at four senior centers, was aimed at improving the health of seniors in the city’s Asian American community.

Image courtesy of the Hospital for Special Surgery

Image courtesy of the Hospital for Special Surgery

The Asian older adult population in New York City grew by 64% from 2000 to 2010, and one in four Asian seniors lived in poverty in 2010.

“This population is at risk for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis,” said Laura Robbins, a senior vice president of Education and Academic Affairs at HSS.

“They are more than twice as likely to have no health insurance coverage compared to other major race and ethnic groups. Cultural and linguistic barriers limit access to healthcare services.”

To address those issues, HSS developed the Asian Community Bone Health Initiative, which featured culturally-relevant, bilingual education and exercise classes. Six 8-week sessions of the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program (AFEP) and three 8-week beginner yoga classes were conducted by bilingual instructors at senior centers in Chinatown and Flushing.

The programs promoted self-management of arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions through exercise; with the goal of decreasing pain and fatigue, improving balance, reducing the number of falls, and increasing physical activity.

Nearly 200 seniors participated; nearly all were female, aged 65 and older. A survey was distributed both before and after the exercise classes to evaluate pain, function and other health indicators.

Many participants reported that their pain intensity dropped and interfered less with their quality of life:

• 48% had less pain on a daily basis after completing the program
• 69% more participants could climb several flights of stairs
• 83% more could bend, kneel, or stoop
• 50% more could lift/carry groceries
• 39% felt the program reduced their fatigue
• 30% felt that the program reduced their stiffness

“Getting seniors to be active in any way will generally improve their quality of life and help them function better in their everyday activities,” said Linda Russell, MD, a rheumatologist and chair of the Public and Patient Education Advisory Committee at HSS. “People believe that if you have arthritis you shouldn’t exercise, but appropriate exercises actually help decrease pain.”

Results of the study were presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Boston.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor