When we get injured or find out we have a progressive health condition, we are reminded that we're not invincible. Sometimes, confronting an illness or injury can cause us to feel downright fragile. This sense of fragility can get in the way of proactive treatment methods such as exercise, which is important both for healing and for overall health.
Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are two conditions that are common as we age, particularly in women over 50. Osteoporosis is characterized by loss of bone mass that leads to a high fracture risk; osteoarthritis is a “wear and tear” form of arthritis in which cartilage begins to wear down, causing pain, stiffness and, ever, bone friction.
According to new research into exercising with mild arthritis, it turns out that medical professionals may be operating with an inflated sense of fragility relating to their patients. A Finnish study into 80 women between the ages of 50 and 65 thought to analyze the effects of a progressive high-impact one-year exercise program on women with mild knee osteoarthritis.
The researchers measured leg bone mass, cardiorespiratory fitness, dynamic balance, muscle strength and knee cartilage composition before and after the study period. They found bone mass to increase, all measurements of physical function to improve and, importantly, no negative effects on cartilage composition.
This last result is highly important because the exercise contracted by the women is conventionally considered off-limits to people with osteoarthritis. They conducted exercises that required jumping and rapid changes in direction, actions that put a lot of stress on the knee joints. According to the results of this study, the stress may not be bad for the joint, at least not up to the one-year mark. Stronger bones and muscles may, over time, also help alleviate symptoms of osteoarthritis.
See more on the study at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/12/13128080957.htm .
The reason jumping and direction-change exercises are important is that these types of exercises are good for building strong bones and improving balance. Due to hormonal changes post-menopause, women over 50 lose bone mass quickly and are at high risk for osteoporosis; bone-building exercise can be a powerful preventative measure. Balance-building exercises decrease fracture risks attributable to falling.
It's important for people with osteoarthritis to be monitored for joint changes, whether positive or negative, as they pursue an exercise program. Although this study suggests that high-impact exercise is not harmful, exercise programs should be tailor to the individual; not everyone responds the same way to exercise.
Still, the study serves as a helpful reminder that conventional wisdom may not always be accurate, and that we may not be as fragile as we think. One of the worst things we can do for our health is to stop moving. For people with mild osteoarthritis, more exercise options may be available to them than previously thought.