Features January 2014 Issue

A New Year Walk for Pain Relief

Reducing your weight through this easy aerobic exercise benefits your joints and overall health.

It’s a New Year’s resolution that many make: eat better and lose weight. And for those with knee osteoarthritis (OA) there’s even more reason to keep this promise for self-improvement.

Proof has emerged from a recent study that shows heavy adults with knee OA who lost 10 percent of their starting weight can significantly reduce their knee pain, walk faster and improve their mobility. A study published in JAMA (Sept. 25, 2013) showed that participants reached their weight loss goals not only through diet, but also by simply walking. Interestingly, everyone in the study increased their walking speed at an age when most older adults are decreasing it.

“While this study’s participants followed a very intense weight loss and exercise program, it underlines the importance of aerobic exercise and how walking daily can make a big difference for joint health,” says Jennifer Ochi, PT, DPT, ATC, a Cleveland Clinic physical therapist and athletic trainer.

Why walk?
There are many reasons why walking is the ultimate aerobic exercise. Walking briskly has been shown to lower your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes as much as running can, according to findings reported in the American Heart Association (AHA) journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (April 4, 2013).

Walking benefits your bones as well. Research shows that postmenopausal women who walk approximately one mile each day have higher whole-body bone density than women who walk shorter distances.

“When starting a walking program, we recommend starting slowly on a treadmill due to its more flexible surface or a walking track with a rubberized surface, which is easier on the joints,” Ochi explains. “Certain surfaces are more forgiving than others.”

The AHA recommends that adults should complete at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on five days a week, or at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on three days per week.

“Physical activity can be accumulated through the day. Three 10-minute walks are the same as one 30-minute session,” says Ochi. “If your goal is to lose weight or maintain your current weight, shoot for 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise daily.”

Firm footing
Before taking your first step toward better joint health, make sure your feet are covered with the right shoe. Most athletic shoes fall into two categories: stability sneakers and neutral sneakers.

Stability sneakers with a dense cushioned midsole and heel can increase knee stress more than flatter shoes, yet they can help take weight off the ball of the foot for some with hip, knee, foot or ankle OA. Stability shoes also provide good cushioning and motion control for those who tend to roll their foot inward when walking.

“A neutral shoe offers good shock absorption and cushioning, and accommodates an insert or custom-molded orthotic,” says Ochi. “You won’t benefit by wearing the shoes you cut the grass in.”