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UNC Research Shows Exercise Is Great Arthritis Medicine

Posted February 5, 2008

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— People with arthritis know the disease can be painful and limiting, and many sufferers may think that exercise would further damage to their joints.

To the contrary, however, a major University of North Carolina study found that appropriate exercise is actually the best medicine.

Heart disease and diabetes are daily concerns for 72-year-old Norma Willhoit, but osteoarthritis causes her the most pain. She tries not to let it slow her down, though.

“I've always been a very active person,” Willhoit said.

Even though she wears a brace on one leg to support a broken arthritic ankle, Willhoit still visits a this senior center for exercise.

“I come here twice a week for a regular class,” she said.

She was also part of a study with UNC's Thurston Arthritis Research Center. It included an eight-week program called PACE – or People with Arthritis Can Exercise.

Even that title is a bold statement, considering many people with the disease grew up believing exercise might further damage their joints.

“Physical activity not only doesn't hurt your disease, it's a pain reliever,” said Dr. Leigh Callahan, a UNC epidemiologist:

The program, Callahan said, promotes "appropriate" exercise for people with different arthritic conditions. Many of them enjoy the weightless environment of pool activities.

The program helped Willhoit learn how to warm up and stretch her muscles and joints.

The study results confirm that exercise is the best medicine for arthritis.

There were “improvements in pain, so less pain, less stiffness and less fatigue,” Callahan said.

The exercise “gets me moving, gets my circulation going, makes me feel better,” Willhoit said. And, the exercise helps Willhoit's diabetes and heart condition as well.

Based on the UNC study, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the PACE program.

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