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Knee workouts work against arthritis

Because the risk of knee osteoarthritis (OA) increases with age, weight gain and other factors, many older adults worry that strenuous exercise could damage their knee joints – and may have even been told by a doctor to “take it easy” on their knees.

But that isn’t necessarily good advice, say researchers at Chicago’s Northwestern Medicine. They followed nearly 1,200 people at high risk of knee OA for a decade, finding that regular vigorous exercises like jogging, cycling, playing tennis and even skiing didn’t make knee OA more likely … in fact, they actually decreased the risk by about 30%.  

The study analyzed data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a long-term study of men and women between the ages of 45 and 79 who were already determined to be at increased risk of knee OA. Over up to 10 years of follow-up, the participants received regular X-rays of both knees, in addition to reporting their weekly physical activity and sitting patterns. Those who did strenuous activities for one to two hours per week saw the most benefit. 

“Our study findings convey a reassuring message … that adults at high risk for knee OA may safely engage in long-term strenuous physical activity at a moderate level to improve their general health and well-being,” said Alison Chang, associate professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern.

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder in the U.S., impacting an estimated 32.5 million adults, according to the CDC. It occurs most often in the knees, affecting 38% to 45% of people over age 55. 

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