Prescribing Physical Activity to Improve Arthritis Symptoms and Mental Health 

This article is part of the Oregon Medical Association's Steering Toward Health initiative that aims to reduce the incidence of serious, lifestyle-related chronic conditions.

May 27, 2021—The link between physical activity, arthritis symptoms, and mental health is clear, so it's no wonder attention is brought to each during the month of May. 

In Oregon, 23% of adults live with some form of arthritis (according to the 2019 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, BRFSS). And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 5 adults with arthritis also experience anxiety or depression. Research shows that these mental health conditions can exacerbate arthritis-associated pain and disability and decrease quality of life. 

One of the ways in which providers can empower patients to take care of both their physical and mental health is by referring them to self-management interventions, such as Walk With Ease (WWE). In fact, multiple studies suggest that adults with arthritis are more likely to participate in a lifestyle change program when it is recommended by a health care provider.

Originally created by the Arthritis Foundation, WWE welcomes anyone who wishes to safely incorporate low-impact physical activity into their everyday lives. Benefits of the six-week program include: reduced pain and discomfort; increased balance, strength, and walking pace; greater confidence in one’s ability to walk; and improved overall health. Walking has also been shown to improve mood, increase energy, and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, physical activity can help people with arthritis manage other chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Physicians, physician assistants, and other health care providers play a critical role in encouraging patients, especially those with chronic pain, to start moving, and to enroll in evidence-based lifestyle change programs, such as WWE. Learn more about the program and if it's right for your patients!

About Walk With Ease

Led by trained facilitators, the course consists of 18 one-hour sessions over six or nine weeks. Components include walking for 10 to 35 minutes, health education, stretching and strengthening exercises, and strategies to increase exercise self-efficacy. Patients in wheelchairs are encouraged to participate by doing upper-body exercises while sitting and, if possible, walking with support from WWE staff.

Health outcomes include: reduced pain and discomfort; increased balance, strength, and walking pace; greater confidence in one’s ability to walk; improved overall health.

WWE classes are held either in-person or virtually, depending upon Covid-19 guidelines, or as a self-directed program. All enrollees receive a walking guidebook. Programs are available in either Spanish or English.

The course is offered at no cost to all Oregonians through OSU extension service with locations across the state, and via other community-based organizations. To refer patients to a self-directed or in-person WWE program in your community, visit: OSU Extension Service.