Osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee is common. It’s estimated to afflict 14% of adults over 25 and 34% of those over 65. It’s a chronic disease, without cure, since it is due to wear-and-tear of the joint cartilage and sometimes the bone.
But many people live with OA have few or no symptoms, especially if they take care of themselves. Recently, two research studies were published that gave good hints on how to minimize symptoms and progression of the disease.
The first study, published June 12 in Arthritis Care and Research, showed that people who walk at least 6,000 steps per day have significantly less progression of their OA. The study found that the more these people walked, the less their symptoms.
The study involved 1788 adults who were at risk for OA or already had the disease, and the researchers measured their OA progression over a two-year period. During that time, each individual wore a pedometer to measure how many steps they took per day.
The researchers found that for every additional 1000 steps taken per day, the subjects had about 17% less functional limitation. About 6000 steps per day was found to be the “threshold” for significant improvement. Those who walked more than that were “in good shape”, according to the principal author, Daniel White of Boston University.
Since most people average about 100 steps per minute when they walk, 6000 steps per day conveniently equals about an hour per day of walking. It did not seem to matter where they walked, it was just important that the people walked for at least an hour per day.
Some people with arthritis might think that they should slow down and not walk as much if they have OA, but this is, for most people, the wrong approach. Being sedentary means you tend to gain more weight (which puts more stress on the knee joints), and if you don’t exercise, the muscles around your knees get weaker and you lose flexibility.
Think of this: when you walk, you build up the muscles of your legs that are around the knee joints, so the muscles themselves can take more stress and not the knee joints. Keeping moving also diminishes OA pain and inflammation.
The power of reduced-fat milk
The second study, published May 27 also in Arthritis Care and Research, showed that women with OA who drank more no-fat or low-fat milk showed less disease progression on x-rays over a four-year period than women who did not drink milk.
Milk is full of calcium, protein, and other nutrients which probably are the reason for the radiographic improvement, but it is curious that the more cheese the women ate, the worse they did. The researchers suspect this is due to cheese having also lots of fat, and probably women who eat lots of cheese are also heavier, putting more stress on the joints.
The study showed that the more no-fat or low-fat milk the women drank, the slower the progression of their disease. The effect in men was not as positive as it was in women, and men had to drink at least seven glassed of milk per week to show some improvement. This study does not prove that milk will help OA, but it strongly suggests that, and further studies will be needed to confirm the findings.
Arthritis researchers are more certain that walking helps arthritis, since the walking study confirmed previous research. According to Samantha Heller, exercise physiologist at NYC Medical Center in New York City, “This study just adds to the vast amount of research and common sense that tells us we need to get off our fannies and out the door.”
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