“You could argue it’s an important challenge for our entire society, but for people with arthritis, it’s a particularly daunting challenge,” says Dr. Chang. “It’s a wake-up call for people with arthritis and physicians who care for them.”

Patience White, MD, vice president, public health for the Arthritis Foundation and professor of medicine and pediatrics at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., says these numbers are sobering.

“Americans aren’t hearing the message, but people with arthritis aren’t getting it either,” says Dr. White. “I think people feel [physical activity] will make their arthritis worse. Somehow the pain makes them think something isn’t right. It’s counterintuitive to say, ‘Actually, it will make me feel better.’”

Dr. White says awareness campaigns help get the message out that physical activity is important. But she says that, as a rheumatologist, she also believes physicians have to spend time with patients to find out what individual barriers keep them from being physically active.

“I think you have to [deliver the message] on all levels, and people need to hear it five times in five different ways. So the more people who are delivering this message, the better,” Dr. White adds.

She recommends patients ask themselves why they aren’t active, and then to look for small ways throughout the day to change that, such as:

  • Parking at the far end of the parking lot so your walk is a little farther.
  • Scheduling a walk into your day – say, in the evening after dinner or in the morning before breakfast when you’re less busy.
  • Making exercise a social event with family or friends who will hold you accountable.
  • Walking around the block during your lunch break.
  • Finding a fun activity, such as swimming, biking or playing an easy game of tennis.

“Figure out how you can do 10 minutes. If you are going to get the mail and you have to walk down the driveway, go up and down three times and then pick up the mail,” Dr. White suggests.

Regular physical activity can help relieve the sleep problems that dog many people with arthritis. It also can lead to weight loss, and losing just 1 pound eases 4 pounds of pressure from your knees. “People with arthritis say it’s remarkable – even just losing 5 pounds can make pain much better,” Dr. White says.