Even a Little Activity Helps Prevent Knee OA

Here’s some good news if you aren’t all that eager to engage in high intensity workouts. All you need to do to stave of the pain and disability of knee osteoarthritis as you age is to get up out your chair and do ordinary tasks such as running the vacuum or pushing a shopping cart. That’s the finding of research y done at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago and published on April 29th 2014 on the British Medical Journal.  The fact that people who exercise moderately or vigorously are less likely they are to develop disability has long been know, but this is the first study to show that spending more time in light activities can help prevent disability, too.

A release from Northwesters quotes lead author Dorothy Dunlop as saying, "Our findings provide encouragement for adults who may not be candidates to increase physical activity intensity due to health limitations. Even among those who did almost no moderate activity, the more light activity they did, the less likely they were to develop disability."

The scientists identified a group of almost 1,700 adults ages 45 to 79 from the Osteoarthritis Initiative study who were free of disability but were at elevated risk for developing it because they had knee osteoarthritis or other risk factors for knee osteoarthritis, such as obesity.

The release explains that knee osteoarthritis commonly leads to disability that keeps people from being able to do activities essential to independent living and quality of life, such as dressing, bathing, walking across a room, and grocery shopping. Two-thirds of obese adults are expected to develop knee osteoarthritis during their lifetime.

To track the amount and intensity of physical activity these at-risk people engaged in every day, scientists had them wear an accelerometer during waking hours for about a week. The device is worn around the hip and measures the intensity of movement. The data collected reveals how much time is spent in vigorous, moderate or light activities.

Two years after collecting the results from the accelerometer, participants were surveyed and asked about the development of disabilities. As expected, more time spent in moderate or vigorous activity was associated with lower reports of disabilities, but researchers were pleased to find that greater time spent in light intensity activities was also related to fewer disabilities, even after accounting for time spent in moderate activities.

Those who spent more than four hours per day doing light physical activity had more than a 30 percent reduction in the risk for developing disability compared to those spending only three hours a day in light activity, which was the least average number of hours collected in the study.

The findings controlled for time spent in moderate or vigorous physical activity and other predictors of disability, both demographic and health factors.

"We were delighted to see that more time spent during the day, simply moving your body, even at a light intensity, may reduce disability," Dunlop said. "Now people with health problems or physical limitations, who cannot increase the intensity of their activity, have a starting place in the effort to stay independent." 

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