Each year, May is recognized as Arthritis Awareness Month, a time to increase awareness about the prevalence and effects of arthritis and to motivate Americans to get more active. Arthritis, which has an annual healthcare cost of more than $300 billion, is one of the most common chronic diseases and a leading cause of disability and work limitations for more than 54 million people across the United States. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are among the most common of the 100 forms of this disease.
NRPA and local park and recreation agencies across the country have been bringing awareness to this issue for the past seven years, by expanding the dissemination and delivery of arthritis-appropriate evidence-based interventions (AAEBIs), including Walk With Ease, Active Living Every Day and Fit & Strong! Through these programs, adults with arthritis can not only access evidence-based programs that help them effectively manage their arthritis condition and comorbidities, such as heart disease and diabetes, but can also establish and engage in meaningful social connections and improve their overall health and quality of life.
One AAEBI participant in Palm Beach County, Florida, shares: “I love the Fit & Strong! class very, very much. I feel good. I’m more flexible in my entire body, in my joints and my muscles. When I started, I had very bad sciatic pain. Now, I feel so much stronger. It’s such a magnificent therapy for my muscles and my joints. And, my brain — when I come here, I feel more relaxed, less stressed. We walk, we talk — I talk with my friends.”
Because of these efforts, some 300 park and rec agencies across 48 states and American Samoa have offered more than 700 AAEBI courses to close to 20,000 participants. In addition, more than 2 million people across the country have been exposed to marketing materials promoting AAEBIs in park and rec settings. Communities in states with a high prevalence of arthritis, such as Alabama, Michigan and Missouri, have also been able to offer arthritis programs to help the most underserved members in their communities manage their arthritis and live fuller, healthier lives.
Lesha Spencer-Brown, MPH, CPH, is an NRPA Health and Wellness Senior Program Manager.