Researchers asked more than 1000 people with radiographic knee osteoarthritis to wear an accelerometer in order to measure their physical activity for one week. Participants were deemed inactive if they failed to sustain a 10-minute period of moderate-to-vigorous activity over the entire week of wearing the accelerometer.
According to Science Daily:
"A substantial 40.1 percent of men and 56.5 percent of women studied were found to be inactive. While more than half of men engaged in significantly more moderate-to-vigorous activity than women, the majority of men who didn't fall into this category were spending their time in no to very light activity."
An estimated 27 million U.S. adults suffer from osteoarthritis, according to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that usually affects your distal joints, or the joints at the end of your fingers and toes, and is generally attributed to wear-and-tear on your joints due to lifestyle, diet and aging.
Contrary to popular belief, if you have osteoarthritis exercise is absolutely crucial to your well-being. Unfortunately, many people with joint pain shun exercise, and a new study found that the number of exercisers with osteoarthritis is even lower than was thought.
If You Have Osteoarthritis, Buck the Trend of Being Inactive
A new study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine outfitted over 111 adults with knee osteoarthritis with an accelerometer to measure their activity for one week. Over 40 percent of men and 56 percent of women were deemed inactive, which means they did not engage in even one 10-minute period of moderate-to-vigorous activity all week. The recommended physical activity guidelines -- 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, low-impact activity -- were met by only 12.9 percent of men and 7.7 percent of women.
The lead researcher told Science Daily:
"The fact that so many people with arthritis are inactive should be a wake-up call to physicians."
Indeed, if physicians could instill the importance of exercise to their arthritis patients, many would benefit immensely.
How Does Exercise Benefit Osteoarthritis?
Most people have little appreciation for how powerful exercise can be in preserving bone density and joint function, which can help prevent and alleviate osteoarthritis as you age. The notion that exercise is detrimental to your joints is a misconception; there is no evidence to support this belief. It's simply a myth that you can 'wear down' your knees just from average levels of exercise and/or normal activity.
Instead, the evidence points to exercise having a positive impact on joint tissues -- if you exercise sufficiently to lose weight, or maintain an ideal weight, you can in fact reduce your risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Arthritis rates are more than twice as high in obese people as those who are normal weight, because the extra weight puts more pressure on your joints. This can not only lead to osteoarthritis, it can also make the condition exponentially worse. You will want to jumpstart your weight loss by eating a healthier diet based on the principles of my nutrition plan, and then continue with appropriate exercise. (Making proper dietary choices is also one of the most profound ways to reduce inflammation, which is important if you have osteoarthritis,)
Whether you need to lose weight or not, however, exercise can help by reducing your joint pain and making it easier for you to perform daily tasks. This is important, as the pain of osteoarthritis has a tendency to lead to decreased activity, which in turn promotes muscle weakness, joint contractures, and loss of range of motion. This, in turn, can lead to more pain and loss of function, and even less activity.
Exercise can help you to break free from this devastating cycle.
How to Exercise Safely With Osteoarthritis
Your program should include a range of activities, just as I recommend for any exerciser. Weight training, high-intensity cardio, stretching and core work can all be integrated into your routine. My most highly recommended form of exercise is Peak Fitness, and this program can be used by virtually everyone. However, if you've already developed osteoarthritis in your knee, you'll want to incorporate exercises that strengthen the quadriceps muscle at the front of your thigh. And, rather than running or other high-impact exercise, you may be better off with non-weight-bearing exercises like swimming and bicycling.
People with arthritis must be careful to avoid activities that aggravate joint pain. You should avoid any exercise that strains a significantly unstable joint.
If you find that you're in pain for longer than one hour after your exercise session, you should slow down or choose another form of exercise. Assistive devices are also helpful to decrease the pressure on affected joints during your workout. You may also want to work with a physical therapist or qualified personal trainer who can develop a safe range of activities for you.
What Can You do for Pain?
Pain during movement is one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of osteoarthritis. Typically this is a result of your bones starting to come into contact with each other as cartilage and synovial fluid is reduced. If you don't take action it can become progressively worse until you are unable to carry out your normal daily activities.
You've probably heard that glucosamine and chondroitin (two animal products marketed as food supplements) can help relieve symptoms of osteoarthritis. However, the results from studies evaluating these supplements have been mixed, and many do not appear to be getting any significant relief from either glucosamine or chondroitin.
Further, while generally considered to be free of side effects, some people do experience gastrointestinal upset from it. Chondroitin molecules are large, making it difficult for your body to digest, which could be what causes problems for some people. It's also not clear, even after many studies, whether glucosamine affects blood sugar levels. In my opinion, people with diabetes or hypoglycemia should be cautious about taking glucosamine, and should carefully monitor their blood sugar levels if taking it.
Also, only a small fraction of the glucosamine you take is actually utilized by your body. In the case of pills and capsules, the studies demonstrate that only about 15-20% is absorbed.
As such, there do appear to be much better options for osteoarthritis pain, namely:
- Eggshell membrane: The eggshell membrane is the unique protective barrier between the egg white and the mineralized eggshell. The membrane contains elastin, a protein that supports cartilage health, and collagen, a fibrous protein that supports cartilage and connective tissue strength and elasticity.
It also contains transforming growth factor-b - A protein that supports tissue rejuvenation, along with other amino acids and structural components that support the stability and flexibility of your joints by providing them with the building blocks needed to build cartilage.
- Hyaluronic acid (HA): Hyaluronic acid is a key component of your cartilage, responsible for moving nutrients into your cells and moving waste out. One of its most important biological functions is the retention of water… second only to providing nutrients and removing waste from cells that lack a direct blood supply, such as cartilage cells.
Unfortunately, the process of normal aging reduces the amount of HA synthesized by your body. Oral hyaluronic acid supplementation may effectively help most people cushion their joints after just 2 to 4 months.
- Boswellia: Also known as boswellin or "Indian frankincense," this Indian herb is one treatment I've found to be particularly useful against arthritic inflammation and associated pain. With sustained use, boswellia may help maintain steady blood flow to your joints, supporting your joint tissues' ability to boost flexibility and strength.
- Turmeric / curcumin: A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that taking turmeric extracts each day for six weeks was just as effective as ibuprofen for relieving knee osteoarthritis pain. This is most likely related to the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin -- the pigment that gives the turmeric spice its yellow-orange color.
- Animal-based omega-3 fats: These are excellent for arthritis because omega-3s are well known to help reduce inflammation. Look for a high-quality, animal-based source such as krill oil.
I suggest you avoid anti-inflammatory drugs like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and analgesics, like Tylenol, which are often recommended to osteoarthritis patients, as chronic use of these types of medications is associated with significant, and very serious, side effects such as kidney and/or liver damage.
One More Essential Tip if You Have Osteoarthritis …
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with cartilage loss in your knees, and this is one of the hallmarks of osteoarthritis. The remedy, to make sure your vitamin D levels are optimized, is simple. It involves getting your blood levels tested, then optimizing them using safe sun exposure, indoor tanning on a safe tanning bed, supplementation with vitamin D3, or a combination of the above.
To find out the details, watch my free one-hour vitamin D lecture.
While there is no "cure" for osteoarthritis, by exercising, eating right, optimizing your vitamin D levels and seeking natural, restorative options for pain, you can help to significantly slow down any further deterioration or loss of motion in your joints.