If you have a rheumatic and musculoskeletal disease (RMD) such as arthritis, your doctor has probably told you that getting more exercise is a good idea. That’s because exercise has been proven to help reduce pain and improve strength and flexibility. By strengthening the muscles around tender joints you can take some pressure off of them. Exercise may also help you lose weight if you’re overweight, which would further reduce the pressure on many joints.
The catch, of course, is that many people don’t like to exercise or say they don’t have time to do it. For those with an RMD, physical discomfort is also often a factor: It’s hard to get motivated to move more when you’re already stiff and achy.
Would investing in a gadget that tracks your steps make a difference in how much activity you get? New research says yes.
The study, a meta-analysis published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, reviewed data from a number of smaller studies to see whether people with RMDs would get more exercise once they started using a wearable activity tracker (like a Fitbit, Apple Watch, or old-school pedometer). The conclusion: People with RMDs who used activity trackers took an average of 1,520 more steps per day than those who didn’t.
Although 1,520 extra steps only translates to about three-quarters of a mile, it’s still considered significant because it means the tracker-wearers spent an additional 16 minutes a day doing moderate to vigorous activity.
Although extra activity is generally a good thing, including for people with RMDs, it’s worth noting that those who were followed for more than eight weeks often reported additional pain along with the extra exercise.
Don’t let that deter you, however. The study authors note that increases in pain were usually minor and that physical activity can be tailored to the strengths and limitations of each person.
When in doubt, ask your doctor, a physical therapist, or a personal trainer for advice about which types of exercises would be safest and most comfortable for you.