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Large Joints Feature

Laura Bush Talks and Walks / Source: Wikimedia Commons and Eric Draper

Have Osteoarthritis? Then Start Walking

Biloine W. Young • Thu, July 10th, 2014

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Everyone knows that walking is good for you. But what if one has osteoarthritis (OA)? Won’t walking further damage compromised joints? According to a study by physical therapist Daniel K. White, Sc.D., PT, of Boston University, and his colleagues, the opposite is true. People with osteoarthritis can decrease the possibility of developing physical limitations by walking more.

As Nancy Walsh, writer for MedPage Today put it, “each additional 1, 000 steps per day was associated with a 16% lower risk for later functional deterioration when assessed on an objective performance-based measure, and with an 18% decrease in risk on a self-report measure.”

The researchers found that walkers who totaled 5, 000 to 7, 500 steps per day cut their risk of complications from osteoarthritis by half. Yet a survey of primary care physicians found that, while the OA Research Society International recommends exercise as an appropriate treatment for patients with osteoarthritis, less than one-third advise their patients with osteoarthritis to walk.

White’s analysis included 1, 788 individuals whose mean age was 67 and whose mean body mass index was 30.7 kg/m2. Women made up 60% of the study group. Their gait speed averaged 1.22 meters per second.

At the end of a two-year follow-up investigators found that 8% and 4% of those who had had no functional limitations at the beginning of the study had since developed them. They found that those s whose daily steps exceeded 7, 500 fared even better than those in the 5, 000 to 7, 499 step group.

White and his group suggest that physicians who are recommending walking to their patients set an initial goal of 3, 000 steps per day. Their study had revealed that few individuals with that level of physical activity were functioning poorly at the end of two years.

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