There are a lot of people with osteoarthritis who believe they can't exercise enough to matter. There are some who even believe exercise will make their condition worse by accelerating cartilage damage and increasing pain. Yet, all we hear is that people should exercise to prevent osteoarthritis, and for those who already have the disease, to decrease symptoms. What's the truth? How much exercise would be just right? Does exercise make things better or worse?
Researchers from The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) presented findings at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America that address some of those questions. Interestingly, the findings showed that very high and very low levels of exercise (or physical activity) can accelerate the degeneration of knee cartilage. Yes, both.
There were 205 middle-aged adults in the study that evaluated knee cartilage over a four-year period. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to measure degenerative changes to the knee cartilage. Study participants also responded to questionnaires about their level of exercise. Results showed that patients who were the most physically active had accelerated degeneration of knee cartilage over time, especially those who participated in high-impact activities. Those with the lowest level of physical activity also demonstrated accelerated degeneration of knee cartilage and higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Researchers concluded that moderate physical activity appears most beneficial to prevent cartilage degeneration in patients at risk for osteoarthritis. Low-impact activities, as opposed to high-impact activities, would also be preferred to decrease cartilage degeneration.
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