Exercise: Good medicine for arthritis, depression

May 10, 2013

Credit Centers for Disease Control

You know the old joke, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this?" and the doctor says, "Well, don't do that?"

That's not the case when it comes to arthritis and physical activity.

About two million Michiganders suffer from arthritis. According to state health officials, a sedentary lifestyle can make arthritis worse -- and make you more vulnerable to depression.

"People with arthritis pain do worry about whether those activities will exacerbate pain, and that can be a demotivator for them certainly in getting started," says Annemarie Hodges, who's a public health consultant in the arthritis program at the Michigan Department of Community Health.

"We don't know it to be a causative relationship, but about 34 percent of adults with arthritis do have anxiety, depression or both. Those things can affect people's motivation to do things they know will be effective with pain and disability. That means physical activity and other self-management, like over-the-counter medication and stretching."

Hodges says exercise can  help ease symptoms of osteoarthritis and depression.

"Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity four to five times a week can bring results in about six weeks. Even that small amount can increase your energy, your willingness to get out and move and decrease the pain of osteoarthritis in your joints," Hodges says.

She says the conditions will become even more common as Americans grow older and heavier.

"We've learned that for every pound of body weight, that's about five pounds of pressure on your joints, so we encourage people to lose even small amounts of body weight."

Hodges says a recent study suggests doctors who treat arthritis should also screen patients for anxiety and depression.

"They would be seizing an opportunity to offer treatments for those conditions that may be standing between a person and the kinds of activity that will make them feel better."