Study Led by USC PRC Director Dr. Sara Wilcox Determines Efficacy of Self-Directed Programs for Adults with Arthritis

A team of researchers led by Sara Wilcox, professor of exercise science at the Arnold School of Public Health, found that two different self-directed programs improved outcomes for adults with arthritis.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined outcomes for participants who engaged in one of two programs: an existing but untested exercise program (First Step to Active Health ©) and a nutrition program developed by the researchers (Steps to Healthy Eating).

The results indicated that the exercise program participants increased their physical activity significantly more than those who followed the nutrition program. However, both groups benefited from their programs in other areas that are important for people with arthritis. Regardless of their assigned program, participants experienced improvements in lower body strength and flexibility, functional exercise capacity, pain, fatigue, stiffness and confidence to manage arthritis symptoms.

“There is a substantial body of research showing that people with arthritis can benefit from exercise,” says Wilcox. “The real challenge is increasing exercise participation in this population.”

Unfortunately, most programs designed for people with arthritis are group-based and not always accessible. Consequently, the research team, which includes Arnold School colleagues Bruce McClenaghan and Marsha Dowda (exercise science) as well as Patricia Sharpe and Katherine Leith from the College of Social Work, determined that safe and effective home-based, self-directed programs are needed.

Both programs were previously untested by adults with arthritis, and both programs are step-based. For the exercise group, participants were advised to begin with aerobic exercise, and then add the other steps (i.e., flexibility, strength and balance exercises) one at a time.

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