Rx for arthritis sufferers: Exercise

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Millions of Americans, especially the elderly, do not exercise because they suffer with joint pain and inflammation caused by arthritis. For the 2.5 million people with rheumatoid arthritis, the breakdown of muscle from the disease also hampers physical activity.

But arthritis sufferers needn't sit on the sidelines and let the condition take over, according to new research from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts. Twice a week a small group of adults with rheumatoid arthritis engaged in a 45-minute strength-training regimen using exercise machines to work their abdominal, back, leg, and chest muscles. After 3 months, their strength in those muscles increased anywhere from 54 to 75 percent. In addition, their balance and ability to walk with ease and speed improved, and they reported less joint pain and fatigue.

Given these benefits, all people with rheumatoid arthritis should consider engaging in a strength-training plan. The first step is a thorough check-up to rule out extreme joint inflammation and other problems that need attention before pumping iron.

Arthritis sufferers who are not ready for weight training can benefit from stretching and other gentle activities that help improve joint flexibility and range of motion and maintain muscle strength. An excellent regimen is the Arthritis Foundation's PACE program. (PACE is an acronym for People with Arthritis Can Exercise.) For a referral to a local Foundation chapter that has details about the PACE program and support groups, as well as additional free information about exercise and arthritis, call the Arthritis Foundation at 1-800-283-7800. Internet users can access the Arthritis Foundation's Web site at http://www.arthritis.org.

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