Choosing Where to Put Your Energy: A Qualitative Analysis of the Role of Physical Activity in the Lives of Working Adults With Arthritis


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Research points to many potential benefits of physical activity (PA) for those with arthritis. However, PA has not typically been examined within the context of other life roles. This study examined the perceptions of PA among individuals managing arthritis in addition to employment and other role demands.


Eight focus groups were conducted with 24 women and 16 men (age range 29–72 years) who were currently or recently employed (within 2 years) and had osteoarthritis or inflammatory arthritis. Participants were recruited from community newspaper advertisements, rheumatology clinics, and arthritis groups. Discussions were audiotaped and transcribed. Transcripts were analyzed using qualitative content analysis.


All groups discussed the impact of arthritis on a range of PAs. Overall, participants discussed PA as positively influencing their health and well-being. Yet, several overarching themes highlighted the complexity of PA, including 1) PA as a potential cause of arthritis; 2) the reciprocal impact of arthritis on PA and PA on arthritis; 3) physical and psychological benefits and harms of PA, such as difficulty making PA decisions when living in pain or when faced with episodic symptoms; 4) perceived choices about engagement in PA (e.g., role overload); and 5) social support.


The relationships among work, health, and other roles were complex. Competing demands, pain, energy, episodic symptoms, support, and decisions to disclose one's illness at work influenced PA. Changes to PA not only affected physical health but also people's self-identity. PA interventions may be improved by taking into account the demands of multiple life roles.