Older adults with arthritis and other joint and muscle conditions experienced less pain, reduced stiffness and less fatigue after participating in a hospital-based exercise program, according to new research.

OT_News-01“The study adds to the growing body of evidence that exercise can help people with muscle and joint conditions,” Sandra Goldsmith, MA, MS, RD, director of public and patient education at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, said in a news release.

As many as 50 million adults in the U.S. have some type of musculoskeletal condition, affecting mobility and quality of life, according to the release. Goldsmith and colleagues conducted the study to assess the effect of HSS exercise classes on pain, stiffness, fatigue, balance, falls and physical activity.

A total of 1,400 adults participated in various exercise programs at the hospital during the course of the study, which began in 2011. The low-cost classes, led by certified instructors, included mat Pilates, therapeutic yoga, yoga-lates (a combination of yoga and Pilates), tai chi and dance. Classes met once each week and were open to the general public, according to the release.

“Our data indicate that hospital-based programs can play an important role in pain relief, improved quality of life and improved levels of physical activity in older individuals with musculoskeletal conditions,” Goldsmith said in the release. The research was presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in November.

“Often patients with musculoskeletal disease are more deconditioned than their disease-free counterparts,” Linda Russell, MD, a rheumatologist and member of the Community Benefit & Services Committee of the Board of Trustees at HSS, said in the release. “Strengthening the muscles around an arthritic joint has been shown to slow the progression of osteoarthritis and reduce pain.”

The majority of participants in the exercise program were ages 75 and older — 36% were 75 to 84 years old; 31.2% were 85 or older; 24.8% were ages 65-84; and 8% were younger than 65. Most of the participants (92%) were women.

A total of 204 individuals handed in questionnaires both before and after completing the program. Survey results covered September 2011 to July 2014.

After taking the classes, fewer participants reported experiencing a high level of muscle/joint pain from their condition (56% before the program started vs. 47% after completing the program), according to the findings. The study also reported statistically significant reductions in how much their pain interfered with their general activities, ability to walk, mood, sleep and enjoyment of life.

Researchers also found 83% of participants indicated a reduction in stiffness; 82% said they felt their balance improved; and 67% said they experienced less fatigue as a result of taking part in the program.

Health outcomes also were related to the type of exercise class participants chose, with the greatest reduction in muscle or joint pain reported by those who took tai chi, the study found.

“The survey results indicate that the hospital’s exercise programs have a positive impact on the musculoskeletal health of participants,” Goldsmith said in the release. “Hospital for Special Surgery will continue to offer these programs to this community to help them stay active, decrease pain and improve their overall health.”