Bringing Arthritis Awareness to Indiana

May is Arthritis Awareness Month. To commemorate it, we invited Jenny Conder of the Indiana Arthritis Foundation to discuss the importance of arthritis education, arthritis prevention tips, and more.

Arthritis afflicts 50 million American adults. And approximately 295,000 children have the disease. Yet for many, arthritis remains shrouded in mystery, considered to be strictly a problem of the elderly.

That’s why Jenny Conder, Area Vice President of the Indiana Area of the Arthritis Foundation, Heartland Region, looks forward to the month of May every year. May is Arthritis Awareness Month – a perfect time for Conder and her colleagues to spread the word about the realities of arthritis.

Here, Conder discusses why she’s passionate about arthritis education, some common misconceptions about the disease, and how you can get involved in the fight against arthritis.

The Indiana Arthritis Foundation recently established a partnership with St.Vincent. How did the relationship come about?

The Arthritis Foundation and St.Vincent have a common goal in educating people with arthritis, providing resources, creating awareness, and helping people with the disease learn how to manage their pain. It’s a common goal to help people, essentially.

Why did you personally decide to become involved in arthritis education and advocacy?

For a couple of reasons. My dad had osteoarthritis for many years, and I’ve watched him struggle over time, and that was really difficult. And I previously worked for another company where I provided community-based wellness programs for older adults, and there is a big link between wellness and arthritis treatment and prevention.

That’s why the Arthritis Foundation offers exercise programs throughout the year in the Indianapolis area. We certify individuals to be instructors so they can be part of our Life Improvement Series program. We offer land-based, aquatic and tai chi programs that take place in various places throughout the city. The great thing about our classes is they can be offered anywhere. Additionally, our programs are consistent in terms of style and content. For example, a person could take the same class here as they would in Florida.

Why has the Arthritis Foundation gotten so involved in exercise programming in recent years?

Physical activity keeps individuals and their joints healthy. Maintaining movement, maintaining proper body weight, and living a healthy lifestyle are important to pain management and the prevention of the onset of arthritis, because strong, healthy joints are less likely to develop arthritis. It simply goes back to the old saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Joints that aren’t getting used lose their flexibility and range of motion, and that eventually translates into arthritis pain.

Is it fair to say that if you don’t have arthritis, someone you know probably does?

Absolutely. If you’re in a room with family or coworkers, more than like one of those people has arthritis. One out of every five people has it. It may not affect you today, but you likely know someone who does have it. Many people don’t realize that kids get it too – there are approximately 6,400 children in Indiana with arthritis.

What are some other common misconceptions of the disease?

That arthritis is the disease of older people; that it’s an inevitable part of aging and it’s just going to happen. A lot of people may think there’s nothing you can do about it, that it’s just the way it is. And that’s simply not true.

Arthritis knows no boundaries, and can affect men, women, and children regardless of age. It’s not just older adults. There are over 100 different types of arthritis and it affects the body in so many different ways. The impact of arthritis on one person can be completely different than on somebody else. Two different people with the disease can have totally different challenges.

What steps can one take to lower their risk of developing arthritis?

The Arthritis Foundation recommends a healthy lifestyle first and foremost. That means proper nutrition, eating lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and maintaining a healthy body weight. The more weight you’re carrying, the harder it is on your joints. So it’s very important for people to exercise and be active.

Especially since the weather is getting nicer, one could exercise outside. The Arthritis Foundation recommends at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week. Even just walking around the block – just make a concerted effort to get up and get going. People should also remember that exercise is not something that has to be done 30 minutes at one time. You can break it up into 10 minutes periods throughout the day. If you’re just getting started for the first time, that may be the best way to do it.

What if you want to get involved in the fight for better arthritis education and awareness?

You can do a couple of different things. It can be as simple as making a donation to the Arthritis Foundation, which would fund any of our local advocacy initiatives or go toward research for a cure. Or you could get involved in volunteering, learning to teach the exercise classes we offer throughout the community.

We also have an Advocacy program, which you can sign up to be an ambassador in your area. Advocates help get the message to members of congress in support of legislation and funding for important arthritis awareness, public policy, and research.

Finally, we have our Arthritis Walk coming up on June 4 in Indianapolis. If you want to get involved as a volunteer – or with any of our special events – we always have opportunities. Please contact B.J, Farrell at 317-879-0321, ext. 203.

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