As we approach the annual Jingle Bell Run to support the local Arthritis Foundation, Kathy Ryan, senior vice president, Information Systems and Technology and chief information officer, advocates for support within the walls of Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
She’s served on the Foundation’s board going on eight years, and reminds us there’s more than 100 diseases and conditions under the umbrella of arthritis.
“Arthritis does not discriminate between the young and old, male and female or ethnic groups, it can strike at any time. Fortunately arthritis isn’t always visible, yet the unfortunate side is it makes it hard to raise awareness and dollars to find a cure,” Ryan said.
The juvenile honoree at this year’s Jingle Bell Run is 6-year-old Cate Penick, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis at the age of 22 months when she suddenly stopped walking.
Arthritis affects 53 million adults in the U.S. and 300,000 children. The annual fundraisers – Jingle Bell Run in December and Food and Foam Fest in the spring – support Camp AcheAway in Little Rock, a summer retreat for children diagnosed with arthritis.
Ryan says the key to managing arthritis is to stay active. “You have to keep moving,” she said. “You can’t be sedentary at all. No matter how much it hurts.”
Arthritis is hereditary, but it can also be caused by overuse or physical injury.
“One thing I did not know is that certain types of arthritis put you at an increased risk of developing heart disease,” she said. “Overall, I don’t think people really understand arthritis and the impact it can have on the person and their family.”
She’d like to see more awareness of that in the coming years, and help the Arthritis Foundation spread the message on a local and national level.
“I hope that in the next one to five years years, and sooner is better, the Arthritis Foundation at a national level begins promoting the actual impact of arthritis. You don’t hear very often, if at all, that arthritis is the leading cause of disability,” she said.
The key for members is preventive care. Because poor health habits and repetitive motion strain can contribute to arthritis, she says staying healthy, staying active and strengthening bones and joints is crucial.
“You have to do weights, you have to exercise, build up the strength in your bones to keep arthritis at bay for as long as possible, “ she said. “Your weight makes a huge difference, too, your diet. All factors of your life can impact your risks.”
About the Jingle Bell Run: A fun and festive holiday-themed 5K, 1-mile or Kids Run and fundraiser to benefit arthritis research. The Little Rock event will be held Saturday, Dec. 2 at the Clinton Presidential Library.
About the Arthritis Foundation: The Arthritis Foundation leads the fight for the arthritis community through information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections. Find out more at arthritis.org.