Does Exercise Increase or Lower the Risk of Osteoarthritis?

Painful knees from osteoarthritis is a problem that becomes more frequent with age. In fact, osteoarthritis affects the majority of people over the age of sixty. Surprisingly, some people have degeneration of the cartilage in the knee joint as early as their thirties. One question that arises is whether exercise speeds up the development of osteoarthritis of the knee. Should you exercise if you're at high risk for osteoarthritis?

Exercise and Osteoarthritis

Light exercise may be best if you're at risk for osteoarthritis of the knee. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco recently looked at 132 men and women who had strong risk factors for osteoarthritis of the knee. After looking at the types and amount of physical activity they took part in, they gauged the health of the cartilage in their knee joints using MRI.

The results? Among this group at high risk for osteoarthritis of the knee, participants who did light exercise on a regular basis had less cartilage degeneration than those who sat on the couch. On the other hand, those who engaged in moderate to strenuous exercise had greater degeneration of the cartilage of the knees. Exercises that involve lots of knee-bending also accelerated osteoarthritic changes in the knees.

Their conclusion? Moderation is key when it comes to exercise for osteoarthritis.

Exercise for Osteoarthritis: What's Best?

Light exercise helps to delay degeneration of cartilage in the knees - a good thing if you're worried about arthritis. On the other hand, running and other high-impact exercises and those that involve lots of bending of the knees may accelerate the onset of osteoarthritis.

The safest form of exercise for people at high risk for osteoarthritis is walking - wearing shoes that offer good foot and ankle support - or swimming in a pool. The worst would be running, particularly up and down hills, jumping rope and high-impact aerobics.

Osteoarthritis and Exercise: The Bottom Line?

If you're at high risk for osteoarthritis, don't sit on the couch. Light exercise helps to strengthen the quadriceps, which benefits the knee, and reduces the risk of obesity - a known risk factor for osteoarthritis.

Your best bet for warding off osteoarthritis of the knees? Lace up your walking shoes and spend thirty minutes a day walking at a brisk pace on flat ground - preferably a soft track- or head to the pool for some laps three days a week. Sitting around won't protect your knees from osteoarthritis, it may accelerate it. Get moving, but don't overdo it.

Family Practice News. December 2010. Pages 78-79.