Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common disability to develop as people age. Over the past 20 years, OA has been the fastest growing major health condition due to the aging population, the obesity epidemic, and sedentary lifestyles. OA affects more than 30 million Americans[AKE-(1] , and recent estimates suggest that the lifetime risk of symptomatic knee OA is 45%, with the risk increasing to 65% [AKE-(2] among those who are obese. Women are at higher risk than men of developing osteoarthritis, particularly after age 50. Fortunately, you can do several things to protect your joints.
Maintain an Optimal Weight
Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for the development and progression of OA in both the knees and hands. And losing weight lowers your risk—each pound lost takes three to four pounds of stress off your joints. Anyone can lose weight; the challenge is keeping it off. If you lose weight slowly, you are more likely to sustain the weight loss. Aim to lose one to two pounds a month and avoid yo-yo dieting. Recent studies confirm you must cut calories to lose weight, and increasing exercise while cutting calories is most effective. Use portion control to your advantage. One trick is to use dessert plates instead of dinner plates.
Moderate physical activity (e.g., brisk walking) on most days is beneficial for all adults, including those with arthritis. Even a 10-minute session of moderate activity per week has benefits. Just start with realistic goals—like walking up one flight of stairs—and slowly work up to more vigorous activity for longer periods. Exercising is often easier with a buddy.
Protect Your Joints
Our recent studies have shown that joint injury is a potential risk factor for developing knee OA. Remember to stretch and warm up before starting any exercise. Try to avoid situations where you might fall and injure your joints. Strength training can help to protect your joints by strengthening the muscles and ligaments surrounding them. Swimming, walking in a pool, or aquatic exercise are all great low-impact ways to work your joints and muscles.
Remember to talk to a health professional before starting an exercise program.
[AKE-(1]I updated this figure based on CDC website at https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm