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Osteoarthritis affects millions of people worldwide and is the most common form of arthritis. It typically affects the hands, neck, low back, knees, or hips. When weight-bearing joints are involved, normal activities of daily living like walking and climbing stairs can become difficult, leading to decreased quality of life.
Overweight and obesity are risk factors for arthritis, as are some genetic and metabolic conditions like diabetes. Overuse of certain joints in sports or at work may also increase the risk of developing arthritis in those joints.
In addition to decreased mobility, pain is another hallmark of arthritis. While medications may help ease arthritis pain, they tend to come with unwanted side effects and they do nothing to alter the course of the disease.
Losing weight helps decrease stress on the joints, and exercise has been shown to decrease pain in arthritic joints. Researchers from Wake Forest University designed a study that compared the effects of diet, exercise, and the combination of the two in 454 overweight or obese people 55 years and older with arthritis in one or both knees.
For 18 months, the participants followed one of these regimens:
Before, during, and after the interventions, the participants answered questions about their pain level, function, mobility, and health-related quality of life. The investigators also measured the compressive forces within the affected joints and blood levels of inflammatory markers. They found:
“People in the diet-plus-exercise group had less knee pain and better function than those in the diet-only and exercise-only groups and improved physical health-related quality of life than those in the exercise group,” concluded lead study author, Dr. Stephen Messier.
Consult your doctor before starting a new workout routine. The degree and extent of arthritis may make some exercises less suitable and lead to further joint damage. But don’t let arthritis prevent you from exercising; done right, exercise can help you lose weight, decrease pain, and improve overall functioning.