As the first baby boomers enter their senior years, it's clear they've picked up some mileage in the form of corporate softball, 10k charity runs, pickup basketball and race walking. For many, the exercise has added not only years to their life, but also life to their years.
Unfortunately, for approximately 27 million adults, the aging process has brought with it osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis in our population. Osteoarthritis, which also is called OA or "wear and tear" arthritis, generally occurs over the course of years. The cartilage "padding" covering the ends of the bones wears away, eventually leaving only the bone surfaces touching each other. OA symptoms are commonly seen in large, weight-bearing joints such as the hips and knees. Researchers long have debated the relative importance of exercise (or lack thereof) as a risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. Some have suggested that high-impact exercise routines such as jogging eventually may lead to OA, while others have not observed this relationship. Still, aging itself is a risk for developing OA, so even those seniors who have no history of trauma to a joint may find themselves dealing with OA as they age.
A major risk factor for both developing and aggravating underlying OA is excess weight. For OA sufferers, losing just a few pounds can significantly improve how an affected joint feels. The problem; however, is that OA hurts... and that can make it hard for patients to find an exercise program to help them lose weight. Also, older athletes tend to live by the slogan "No pain, no gain." But my goal for people with OA is to help them understand the concept of "No gain, no pain." By this, I mean that one of the most effective ways to improve the pain and discomfort of OA is to keep (or get) your weight down. So, try to figure out how you can do that. When done in conjunction with low-impact exercise (such as using a stationary cycle or an elliptical trainer), even a little weight loss can give OA patients a chance to improve their condition.
For the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, I'm Dr. Tedd Mitchell, and this is the President's Prescription.
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