Callahan explains that self-directed participants may have continued walking beyond the six-week program while group walkers may not have continued walking at the same intensity or frequency because they no longer had the group, from which they derived enjoyment and motivation. “The lower pain levels are probably maintained because the people are continuing to walk,” she says. “I think if you quit walking, you lose the benefits.”

Participants reported high satisfaction with the program. Ninety-two percent of the self-directed group and 100 percent of the walking class said they would recommend the program to a friend, and the majority of all participants said the program motivated them to be more active.

“It’s an easy program. It gives people a certain amount of control,” says Callahan. “You can see improvement easily in a walking program.” She adds that, anecdotally, many participants reported the added benefit of losing weight, although that wasn’t the focus of the study.

Callahan say this is good news for arthritis patients because the program offers a safe, easy and affordable way to engage in physical activity whether they live in an urban or rural setting, and whether they exercise in a group or alone.

Jonathan Chang, MD, a clinical associate professor of orthopaedics at the University of Southern California calls the study a good and valid one, but says more work still needs to be done.

“Further validation is needed from a larger body of work. In medicine, [what constitutes] proof is not ordinarily drawn from a single study, but usually derives from a series of studies that show that the original concept was not a statistical fluke,” Dr. Chang explains.

Still, he says, “Their recommendations are of value and can be utilized as a guide to helping people to improve their function and ability to walk if you have arthritis.”