Physical Activity Implementation Guide
Boosting physical activity among adults with arthritis

Business and Industry


Making the Case

Arthritis is common and costly.

Arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the United States.
  • 52.5 million U.S. adults (22%) have arthritis.
  • 8.6 million U.S. adults (19%) report disability due to arthritis. In this context, disability is defined as a limitation or loss of function, most often manifested as difficulty climbing a flight of stairs and walking 3 city blocks (a distance equal to walking from the parking lot to the back of a large store or through a mall).
  • Two-thirds of people with arthritis are working aged, 18 to 64.
  • As the number of older Americans contin­ues to grow, and the rates of obesity and overweight increase, the number of people with arthritis will only increase.
Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions costs our nation $128 billion each year – or 1.2% of the gross domestic product (in 2003).

$47 billion of that cost is due to lost earnings. Without proper management and appropriate environmental supports, arthritis can present difficulties and unique challenges for affected adults in the workplace. Taking these challenges into account and supporting physical activity in the workplace not only contributes to greater health for employees but also helps employers lower direct (e.g., decreases in insurance premiums) and indirect costs (e.g., decreases in absenteeism and increases in worker productivity).

Musculoskeletal conditions, meaning arthritis and other conditions of the muscles, bones, and joints, are the most common causes of work limitation among US adults.
Adults with arthritis often have other chronic conditions and arthritis makes managing these other conditions more difficult:
  • 47% have at least one comorbid condition—heart disease, chronic respiratory conditions, diabetes, and stroke are among the most common;
  • Half have high blood pressure; and
  • 66% are overweight or obese.
Adults with arthritis are more likely to fall.

Because of physical limitations and disease progression over time, adults with arthritis are prone to falling. This could be because of pain, awkward gait, tripping or slipping easily, or not being able to “catch” themselves if they are off balance. Engaging regularly in balance activities, such as Tai Chi, has been shown to prevent falls and improve stability.

Physical activity benefits all adults — INCLUDING adults with arthritis.
  • It offers immediate and measurable health benefits: decreased pain, delayed onset of disability, and improved physical functioning, mood, and independence.
  • It also enhances quality of life, aerobic capacity, and muscle strength.
  • It is a low-cost, effective, and sustain­able approach to arthritis management.
People with arthritis can safely engage in physical activity.

Moderate intensity exercise is safe for people with arthritis due to its low risk of injury, and has been shown not to aggravate joint symptoms. Walking in particular has more than half the risk of musculoskeletal injury compared to other vigorous activities like running. A variety of physical activity programs have been tested and proven appropriate and safe for adults with arthritis.

Unfortunately, far too few adults with arthritis participate in recommended physical activity.

Adults with arthritis are less likely to be physically active than those without the disease, and this gap widens even further for adults with arthritis who also have diabetes or heart disease or for those who are obese.

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