Features July 2007 Issue

Weight Loss Can Reduce Arthritis Risk: Here’s How

Not sure if weight may be a factor in your arthritis pain? A measure of your Body Mass Index can tell you.

It should come as no surprise by now to learn that excess body weight places added stress on your joints, primarily on your hips and knees. In fact, the force exerted on your knees and hips while walking is nearly three times your body weight; and if you’re overweight

andsuffer from osteoarthritis (OA), the excess force on your joints can lead to worsening pain and loss of function.

You can tell how you measure up by determining your Body Mass Index (BMI), the tool at right that doctors use to measure your weight as it relates to you height. In overweight or obese women (those with a BMI of 25 or greater), studies have shown that losing just 11 pounds reduces the risk of knee OA by nearly 50 percent—and gaining 11 pounds increases the likelihood of developing knee OA by 28 percent.

Dynamic duo: Diet and exercise

You can lose weight two ways—by reducing the number of calories you consume, and exercise. Both should be considered partners in any weight-reduction program. Calorie reduction can be achieved by eating more slowly, decreasing serving sizes, and avoiding high-fat snacks. Exercise, the other half of the weight-reduction team, can also help you shed pounds. Sadly, according to national statistics, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults who suffer from arthritis don’t get enough exercise to relieve their symptoms. Public health officials recommend that adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, and although arthritis may pose special challenges, many forms of exercise—swimming, bicycling, moderate walking—are easy on the joints and can be done regularly.

How much weight do you need to lose before you start to see your arthritis symptoms improve? One recent study measured the long-term impact of weight re-duction on pain, stiffness, and function in 24 overweight patients with knee OA. After four months, the participants had lost an average 18 pounds and reported dramatic reduction in pain (40 percent), stiffness (45 percent), and improvement in physical function (51 percent). The takeaway message: If you’re overweight, even minor weight loss can produce significant improvements in arthritis pain and function.