Is Exercise the Key to Joint Health?

Is Exercise the Key to Joint Health?

Joint health becomes more of an issue with age. The most common cause of joint problems is osteoarthritis. Although osteoarthritis doesn’t always cause symptoms, especially in its early stages, many people experience joint pain and stiffness as it becomes more advanced. There’s a common misconception that exercise, especially high-impact exercise, increases the risk for joint problems related to osteoarthritis. In fact, exercise may actually be a natural prescription for healthy joints.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis comes from cumulative joint “wear and tear”. This wear and tear gradually break down cartilage, the dense connective tissue that cushions and protects your bones from damage due to friction. When this happens, bones are exposed and rub against one another. This causes irritation and inflammation. As it advances, the synovial fluid inside the joint becomes inflamed and pain and joint stiffness become a problem.

There’s growing evidence that osteoarthritis affects more than just joint cartilage – the synovial fluid and tissues, fat and even the muscles surrounding the joint may be involved in osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis becomes more common after the age of 40 and females get it more often than males. There is a genetic predisposition to osteoarthritis. If you have a family history of osteoarthritis, it’s important to take steps to keep your joints healthy.

Joint Health and Resistance Training

What role does exercise play in joint health? Exercise is the key to keeping your joints healthy. How does exercise help with joint health? It strengthens the muscles that surround your joints. When you have more strength and muscle mass, there’s more muscle tissue to absorb shock when you move or walk around. What’s the best way to increase strength and muscle mass? Resistance training.

How effective is resistance training for joint health? It even helps people with already-established joint problems. One study found resistance training improved function in people with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune form of arthritis. Research suggests resistance training, even high-intensity resistance training, reduces pain, stiffness and increases the ability of people with rheumatoid arthritis to get around. Rheumatoid arthritis sufferers frequently lose muscle mass due to their disease and resistance training helps prevent this. You often hear high-impact exercise is unsafe for people with arthritis. Interestingly, rheumatoid arthritis sufferers that took part in a two-year high-intensity exercise program involving resistance exercises and aerobic exercise experienced no increase in joint damage.

Joint Health and High-Impact Exercise

Another study focused on eighty women between the ages of 50 and 65 that had been diagnosed with mild knee osteoarthritis. The women participated in a 12-week high-impact exercise program that involved jumping exercises. Despite doing high-impact exercise, they experienced no worsening of their disease. This was confirmed by measuring the composition of their cartilage using a special MRI technique. Plus, they experienced no increase in knee stiffness or pain. High-impact exercise did not cause further cartilage damage. Of course, you should always follow the advice of your doctor. If you have severe joint problems, high-impact exercise may not be for you. Fortunately, you don’t have to do high-impact exercise to get a good workout.

Can Exercise Prevent Osteoarthritis?

Most research shows moderate amounts of exercise lower the risk for osteoarthritis of the knees. On the other hand, a study showed competitive runners that ran long distances and people who play high-impact, competitive sports have a higher risk of knee osteoarthritis. This doesn’t appear to be true in recreational runners and people who do moderate amounts of exercise, including high-impact exercise. The risk is also higher in athletes that sustain an injury to structures that support the joint and continue to play high-impact sports. Another study concluded that the best exercise prescription for lowering your risk for osteoarthritis is to do moderate amounts of exercise on a regular basis.

Resistance training not only helps prevent osteoarthritis – some studies show it slows down the progression of the disease. Resistance training strengthens muscles that support the joints while helping prevent loss of bone mass with age. People who have rheumatoid arthritis sometimes take steroid drugs to reduce inflammation. These medications increase the risk of bone loss. Resistance training helps prevent this.

Another way exercise of all types prevents joint problems is by helping with weight control. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for joint problems due to the greater load placed on the joints. Lack of exercise can lead to a vicious cycle of worsening joint pain due to being overweight and further weight gain due to lack of exercise.

Exercising for Joint Health

What’s the best way to protect your joints? Vary the type of exercise you do so you’re not doing high-impact aerobic exercise every day. Alternate high-impact aerobic exercise with lower impact workouts like spinning that won’t place stress on your knee joints. Avoid doing activities that involve repetitive trauma over long periods of time. Do high-intensity resistance training to build muscle mass and strength to support your joints. If you have joint problems, do daily flexibility exercises to increase your range of motion and prevent stiffness. If you’re overweight, lose weight to reduce the pressure on your joints.

The Bottom Line?

Exercise is important for keeping your joints healthy, for preventing osteoarthritis and for easing the symptoms if you already have it. Keep your joints flexible by staying active.



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Science Daily. “Osteoarthritis patients will benefit from exercise that strengthens bones”

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