> Skip repeated content

Motivation to Move: Study Finds Mild Exercise Helps Decrease Pain and Improve Activity Level in Older Adults

New York, NY—November 1, 2016

It's never too late to reap the benefits of exercise, and that includes older adults with arthritis and other muscle and joint conditions, according to a study. Researchers at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) found that a low-impact exercise program in senior centers in New York City’s Chinatown and Flushing, Queens communities helped decrease pain, improve mobility and enhance quality of life for many participants.

The study, titled "Effects of a Culturally Tailored Low-Impact Exercise Program for Chinese Older Adults in NYC", was presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting on November 1 in Denver.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Asian seniors had the highest rate of physical inactivity (defined as no physical activity beyond basic daily life activities), 29% of them lived in poverty, and 75% had limited English language proficiency in 2012. In addition, Chinese Americans were less likely to seek health care because of cost and language and cultural barriers.

"In 2011, HSS developed the Asian Community Bone Health Initiative, a culturally-tailored low-impact exercise program aimed at improving musculoskeletal health in the underserved Chinese older adult community," said Minlun (Demi) Wu, MPA, research coordinator, Department of Public & Patient Education at Hospital for Special Surgery.

"Joints will often stiffen if not used, and muscles will weaken if not exercised. Our bodies are meant to move, and inactivity leads to weakness and stiffness, and joints with arthritis often worsen with inactivity," said Theodore Fields, MD, director, Rheumatology Faculty Practice Plan at HSS.

The exercise classes, which were free and open to community members, took place once a week for eight weeks. Participants performed chair and floor mat exercises using stretch bands and other gentle exercises. Certified bilingual instructors made the sessions culturally relevant by integrating Chinese breathing techniques and meditation into the program.

A survey was distributed to participants before the classes started and again after they ended to evaluate pain, physical function, stiffness, fatigue, balance and other health indicators. A total of 256 adults completed the questionnaires between September 2011 and June 2016. Ninety-three percent of participants were female, and 73 percent were between 60 and 79 years of age.  

"Overall, the program was very well-received," said Wu. "After completing the classes, statistically significant differences were found in pain intensity, physical function, balance, and confidence about exercising without making symptoms worse."

Participants also reported significant improvements in the ability to perform activities of daily living, such as lifting or carrying groceries; climbing stairs; bending, kneeling and stooping; and bathing and getting dressed.

Additional findings:

  • 84% of respondents reported less pain after participating in the program
  • 95% of participants reported less stiffness
  • 92% of participants reported less fatigue
  • 95% of participants reported that their balance improved
  • 100% of participants said they were very satisfied with the program and would recommend it to others

"The study results are consistent with the experience of rheumatologists and with prior studies showing that exercise, even of mild degree, helps with pain," said Dr. Fields. "Getting people up and moving does appear to help with mood, pain and overall functioning."

"Given the social and financial implications of musculoskeletal diseases, it is paramount to identify effective programs that reduce the impact of these debilitating conditions," said Wu. "Our findings indicate that implementing a bilingual low-impact exercise program can play an important role in pain relief, improved quality of life and improved levels of physical activity in the underserved Chinese community." The classes are ongoing and have become so popular there is a waiting list.

#     #     #

Meeting: 2016 APHA Annual Meeting

Session Title: Poster Session 1

Date/Time:  Tuesday, November 1, 2016, 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Study Title: Effects of a Culturally Tailored Low-Impact Exercise Program for Chinese Older Adults in NYC

Authors:  Minlun (Demi) Wu, MPA; Titilayo Ologhobo, MPH; Robyn Wiesel, MCHES; Huijuan Huang, MPA; Sandra Goldsmith, MA, MS, RD; and Laura Robbins, DSW, all from Hospital for Special Surgery.


About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery
HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the ninth consecutive year) and No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S.News & World Report (2018-2019). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State. In 2017 HSS provided care to 135,000 patients and performed more than 32,000 surgical procedures. People from all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries travelled to receive care at HSS. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The culture of innovation is accelerating at HSS as 130 new idea submissions were made to the Global Innovation Institute in 2017 (almost 3x the submissions in 2015). The HSS Education Institute is the world’s leading provider of education on the topic on musculoskeletal health, with its online learning platform offering more than 600 courses to more than 21,000 medical professional members worldwide. Through HSS Global Ventures, the institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.


Need Help Finding a Physician?

Call us toll-free at:

Conditions & Treatments

adult child
Select A Body Part
Conditions: Adult head Conditions: Adult spine Conditions: Adult shoulder Conditions: Adult elbow Conditions: Adult hand Conditions: Adult hip Conditions: Adult knee Conditions: Adult ankle Conditions: Adult head Conditions: Adult full body Conditions: Child spine Conditions: Child elbow Conditions: Child hip Conditions: Child hand Conditions: Child knee Conditions: Child ankle Conditions: Child full body

Conditions A-Z

Media Contacts

Tracy Hickenbottom
Monique Irons
Sherry Randolph


Social Media Contacts