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Exercise Neither Increases Nor Decreases Knee Osteoarthritis Risk

The Effect of Exercise on Older Adults and Obese People


Updated August 26, 2007

Regular exercise is recommended for better health, especially for middle-aged and older adults. The effect of weight-bearing exercise on older adults and people who are overweight has been studied. Does exercise prevent or provoke osteoarthritis in patients with certain risk factors?

A Study of Long-term Physical Activity in Older Adults

The effects of physical activity over a long period in older adults, including many who were overweight, were analyzed by researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. There were 1,279 study participants who were Framingham Offspring. The study participants were asked about recent and regular physical activity. Between one and two years later (in 1993-1994), their knees were x-rayed and they were asked about knee pain, aching, and stiffness.

Between 2002 and 2005, the study participants again had knee x-rays and were asked about knee pain, aching, and stiffness. They had been weighed at the study onset and during follow-up.

Results Show No Increased Risk of Knee Osteoarthritis

Study results showed no link between the development of knee osteoarthritis and:

  • leisure or recreational walking
  • jogging
  • other self-reported physical activities

The study also revealed that while overweight or obese people had an increased risk of developing knee osteoarthritis, it was not due to physical activity levels. While other studies have concluded that exercise protects the knee and prevents joint space loss, this study which was published in the February 2007 issue of Arthritis Care & Research did not indicate a protective effect against knee osteoarthritis.

Conclusions Regarding Exercise and Knee Osteoarthritis

Researchers conluded that while exercise does not protect against knee osteoarthritis, it also does not contribute to the development of knee osteoarthritis. Physical activity does not cause knee osteoarthritis.

Other researchers from the Netherlands, after reviewing 37 studies investigating risk factors related to knee osteoarthritis, found three other studies which agreed that regular exercise was not linked to knee osteoarthritis. Generalized osteoarthritis and the level of hyaluronic acid in joints were linked to the development of knee osteoarthritis.

Effect of recreational physical activities on the development of knee osteoarthritis in older adults of different weights: The Framingham Study. David T. Felsen et al. Arthritis Care & Research. February 2007. <http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/114104081/ABSTRACT>.
Prognostic factors of progression of osteoarthritis of the knee: A systematic review of observational studies. Belo, J.N. et al. Arthritis Care & Research. February 2007. <http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/114104222/ABSTRACT>.

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