How Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis Can Benefit from Intensive Exercise

How Adults with Knee Osteoarthritis Can Benefit from Intensive Exercise

Published - 27th Jan

Approximately one in five people over the age of 45 in the UK have knee osteoarthritis — a degenerative condition that results from ‘wear and tear’ of the cartilage in the knee joint. A study published in the journal JAMA shows that among overweight and obese adults with this condition, combining an intensive diet and workout resulted in a considerable reduction in pain and improved function after 18 months. Combining both strategies, researchers stated, was better than concentrating exclusively on either diet or exercise.

A Multifaceted Approach Works Best

Some findings of the study were that participants lost more weight when they exercised and dieted (and when they dieted alone) than when they simply exercised. Combining both approaches also resulted in faster walking speed and an improved physically-related quality of life. It also showed a bigger reduction in inflammation — a factor that is related to pain and reduced function. The researchers concluded that by combining a healthy diet with exercise, patients can look forward to a mean long-term weight loss of over 10%. This is good news, since more weight affects both pain and functionality in a negative way. 

Which Types of Exercise are Suitable for People with Knee Pain?

Those with osteoarthritis-related knee pain will almost instinctively know which exercises are detrimental to them - those which involve impact or activities that involve twisting the knee from side to side (think Zumba, high-impact aerobics, and similar exercises.) Indoor bike workouts don’t hurt knees because they do not involve serious impact, yet they do increase cardiovascular fitness. If you are into indoor cycling, choose a low-lying bike that supports your body fully. Having a variety of resistance levels to choose from is also key, since if resistance is too high, it can cause knee pain as well. Swimming, water aerobics, and walking are additional choices for those wishing to avoid jumping or twisting movements. 

Keep it Moderate

Regardless of the workout you choose, keep it moderate. A study published by the Radiological Society of North America found that both very high and very low levels of exercise can increase the degeneration of knee cartilage. Moreover, these cartilage effects are irreversible. The researchers stated that a moderate approach focusing on weight loss (if patients were overweight or obese) and sports like walking or swimming were ideal for long-term gains.

Which Diet is Appropriate?

Doctors recommend a Mediterranean diet (comprising lean protein, pulses, fruits and vegetables and Omega-3 fats) owing to its ability to stave off inflammation. However, there are specific steps you can take as well. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Surrey showed that one gram of fish oil per day could reduce the pain of people with osteoarthritis. In the study, researchers recommended a calorie-restricted diet combined with aerobic, strength (weights) and flexibility exercises. They added that simply being obese increases inflammation, which results in more pain.

If you are one of the millions of people in the world who have knee osteoarthritis, a combined approach that includes diet and exercise is key. When it comes to physical activity, keep it low-impact so as not to add stress and pain to your joints. Adopt a healthy diet with plenty of fibre, and if weight loss is on the cards, a low-calorie diet (and a bit of fish oil - if your doctors deems it appropriate) may help to alleviate your symptoms.

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