Senior Health Myth: Osteoarthritis and Exercise

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Pain is a signal to the body. We feel pain when something is amiss, giving us the awareness necessary to correct the issue. As we age, some of us will develop osteoarthritis, which is typically a biologically-mediated inflammatory process that can riddle the knee joints with pain. So, in this case, what are our bodies signaling us to do? Many people, including healthcare providers (HCPs), are under the impression that seniors should completely stop exercising in response to the development of osteoarthritis. This is a myth. According to a series of tweets by Howard Luks, M.D., a prominent orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, exercise is actually key to treating early-moderate osteoarthritis in older adults.

“Osteoarthritis is (most often) not a mechanical wear and tear process,” says Dr. Luks. “Too many people, including HCPs, think that osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear. Too many HCPs tell their patients to stop running, speed walking, elliptical, treadmill, CrossFit, etc. to feel better.” He goes on to explain why seniors may develop osteoarthritis in the first place: Over time, our bodies may begin cultivating chemicals that cause cartilage cells to die, which weaken the total volume of cartilage in our joints and cause inflammation. This process can be initiated by a variety of factors including genetics, previous injury, poor metabolic health, or even surgery.

“So how does exercise help with Osteoarthritis?”

Good question. Long study short, running and resistance training can cause the concentration of those aforementioned chemicals to decrease - while also promoting good cartilage health. Luks continues, “Exercise is the best medicine for a joint that has started to degenerate or become arthritic. You are NOT wearing out your cartilage by walking or running.” Of course, in the case of severe osteoarthritis-related pain, you may need additional treatment, and you should discuss these arthritis treatment options with your healthcare provider. But the point remains; exercise is critical for older adults with or without arthritis. Seniors can especially benefit from training with a medical fitness specialist who can help set goals, identify limitations, and establish an optimal training program.

In a final note from Dr. Luks, he emphasizes the importance of exercise for seniors’ broader quality of life. “Exercise and walking are important to decrease the risk of dementia, to lower risk of heart disease, to maintain or decrease our weight, to clear the cobwebs from our heads, to decrease blood pressure, and improve your overall health...if we don’t move, we rust. Rant over!”

We could not agree more. This is exactly why we created RenewMe Fitness! So keep those joints moving and maximize your quality of life. And if you are a senior looking for specialized in-home or group training, we’d love to help. Contact us now.