Maintaining a healthy weight, doing some daily physical activity, and eating nutritious foods is sound wellness advice for everybody. But it’s especially important for people living with arthritis, which can be a chronic and progressive disease that requires medication and lifestyle changes to optimally manage symptoms and keep disease activity in check.
The challenge, though, is that arthritis’s toughest symptoms, such as pain, disability, and fatigue, make it hard to exercise and adopt healthy eating habits. Weight loss needs of arthritis patients can be different from those of people without arthritis. Cooking complicated meals that require 45 minutes of prep or taking high-intensity bootcamp classes are not an option when it’s hard to even get out of bed or chop up a carrot.
It’s important to continue to understand the specific weight loss needs and challenges of people with arthritis so we can develop better resources to help patients succeed in achieving these important disease management goals.
CreakyJoints wanted to understand how factors like peer support and digital tools help promote weight loss and healthy lifestyle changes in people with different kinds of arthritis. In research presented at the 2019 Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR) meeting in Madrid, Spain, we surveyed 418 patients about these issues. Here’s what we learned.
1. Barriers to weight loss can vary by arthritis type
Our study differentiated people into two general buckets: those with osteoarthritis, which occurs when there is wear and tear on a joint due to cartilage breakdown from age or injury, and inflammatory arthritis, which occurs when the body’s immune system is overactive and attacks your joints, causing inflammation and pain.
People with any kind of arthritis can have similar problems doing certain kinds of exercises or experiencing pain following exercise. A majority of arthritis patients in this study (57 percent) said that difficulty moving was a challenge for losing weight. Nearly half (48 percent) said that sedentary behavior, such as watching TV, was a challenge for losing weight.
But our research also found that there may be certain barriers that are more common among people with osteoarthritis vs. inflammatory arthritis. Depression was a greater barrier to exercise among people with osteoarthritis (47 percent) compared with inflammatory arthritis (34 percent), for example. Disliking exercise was also a more prevalent barrier for OA patients (35 percent) than for those with inflammatory arthritis (21 percent).
2. Preferences for digital weight loss tools may also vary by arthritis type (or age)
Our data showed that people with inflammatory arthritis were more likely to use digital weight loss tools or want to use additional tools in the future compared with patients with osteoarthritis. For example, 35 percent of IA patients said they used an app to help them exercise; only 19 percent of people with OA did. This may have to do with age and comfort using technology, since the average age of osteoarthritis patients in the study was 62 compared with 55 for inflammatory arthritis.
“What this research tells us is that while arthritis patients do have some similar needs when it comes to wellness and weight loss resources and support, osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis patients shouldn’t necessarily be treated exactly the same,” says study co-author Kelly Gavigan, MPH, manager of research and data science for CreakyJoints. “When developing resources for patients, whether digital tools, patient support groups, or community-based programs, it’s important to think about the specific needs of the patients involved, based on their age, type of arthritis, and other factors, in order to make these resources as useful and effective as possible.”
3. Being part of an authentic community matters
While 70 percent of the patients surveyed said they would want to participate in a peer support program for weight loss with other arthritis patients, only 10 percent of them said they would want to join such a program that includes people without arthritis.
“It may be important to people that resources are catered to arthritis patients specifically,” says Gavigan.