A randomized trial has found that yoga is safe and effective for people with rheumatoid arthritis and knee osteoarthritis, two common forms of arthritis.

In a study published in The Journal of Rheumatology, researchers report that yoga classes taken for eight weeks have improved not just the physical but the mental well-being as well of people with rheumatoid arthritis and knee osteoarthritis. This isn't the first time that researchers have explored the benefits of yoga but the study is the biggest randomized trial so far to tackle yoga's effects on physical and psychological health.

Susan Bartlett, one of the authors of the study, said that there is a growing interest in yoga as a form of complementary treatment, with one out of every 10 people in the United States now engaged in the activity to improve their health and fitness. Yoga works for those with arthritis because it brings together physical activity and relaxation and stress management techniques while acknowledging varying limitations.

Arthritis is a leading cause of disability that affects one out of every five adults, most of whom are below 65 years old. If not properly managed, arthritis can not only hamper mobility but negatively affect overall health and well-being, and ultimately quality of life. The condition has no cure but one of the effective ways of managing it is to stay active. However, as much as 90 percent of those with arthritis are not meeting public health guidelines for physical activity, possibly due to the fact that the condition causes stiffness and pain and perhaps because there is uncertainty on how to best stay active.

The study had 75 participants, all of which were randomly chosen to either attend a twice-weekly yoga class with a weekly practice session in their homes or be part of the control group. Based on results, the yoga group reported 20 percent improvement in energy, mood and pain levels, as well as physical function compared to those in the control group. These improvements were also still evident nine months later.

To ensure the safety of the participants, the researchers worked with yoga instructors who are trained to modify poses depending on the individual abilities of those in their class. Participants were also examined by their doctors and were instructed to continue taking their arthritis medication.

Clifton Bingham, another author of the study, suggests that those interested in yoga as arthritis treatment should start with gentle yoga classes first and "practice acceptance of where you are and what your body can do on any given day."

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