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How does exercise help prevent osteoarthritis?

Dr. Howard S. Smith
Pain Medicine Specialist

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of the 30 million Americans with osteoporosis are women. Yet most women do not realize that the more exercise they get, particularly weight-bearing exercise such as walking, the stronger their bones will be and the less likely they are to get osteoporosis or painful fractures. In a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers concluded that moderate levels of physical activity could help to prevent hip fractures. Nonetheless, researchers added that no matter how active you were, if you become inactive, you are at a higher risk for painful fractures. If you want to prevent osteoporosis and incapacitating fractures, it’s important to stay active your entire life.

Exercise is invaluable in helping prevent osteoarthritis. Any type of low-impact, light to moderate exercise—brisk walking, low-impact aerobics, swimming, resistance training, yoga and bike riding—is a good choice.

Your exercise program should feature activities that strengthen your muscles without putting a lot of stress on your joints. When your muscles are strong, they reduce extra stress on the joints by holding them in the correct position, which helps prevent osteoarthritis. Studies show, for example, that having strong thigh muscles helps prevent knee arthritis. Strong muscles also help you keep your balance and avoid falls that could injure a joint, which would then be more likely to develop osteoarthritis later on.  

Your exercise program should also include activities that get your heart pumping harder. Be sure to enjoy some activities that move your joints in all directions and help with balance.

http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Osteoarthritis/default.asp#pic_4; http://www.hopkins-arthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/exercise.html

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Exercise is a great way to prevent osteoarthritis (OA). Regular exercise keeps your joints flexible, builds strength in the muscles and bones that support your joints, and improves your overall strength and balance. Not only do all those benefits help prevent OA, they also help prevent joint injuries that can lead to OA down the line. Plus, exercise helps you keep your weight down, which also helps prevent OA.

Unfortunately, nothing totally prevents osteoarthritis, but resistance exercise definitely helps reduce your risk of developing it, and any exercise in an aligned joint helps prevent progression of osteoarthritis. Strong muscles make strong, lubricated, cushioned joints, which are a lot less likely to get osteoarthritis. When your muscles are strong, they support your joints and hold them in the right position. That cuts down on the wear and tear that leads to creaky, stiff joints. And there’s a bonus, too: Strong muscles also help you keep your balance and avoid falls.

First, make sure your legs are aligned for walking. That is key. Then do exercises that strengthen the muscles above and below the joint (those muscles act as shock absorbers for that joint), and chase with a few supplements. Also give low-impact aerobics, swimming, resistance training, yoga, or bike riding a go. You will take it easy on your joints while still strengthening your muscles and increasing your heart rate.

Keep in mind that it’s also important to include activities that move your joints in all directions (at least the directions they’re supposed to go in!) and help with balance. Find an activity you like and do it 30 minutes at a time, 5 days a week. You can even alternate it with your 10,000 steps a day.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.