Jerry Wade used to love bird-watching with his wife, an avid birder.
"I'm not a birder myself, but I like being active and getting out there
with her," he says. "Bird-watching puts you into natural areas and some
rough terrain -- it's not an easy physical activity."
But in the fall of 2005, the 66-year-old Columbia, Mo., resident, who had
retired in 2000 from a career in community development, started noticing
"pains and twinges" in his knees. A visit to his doctor in January 2006
brought the diagnosis: osteoarthritis of the knees. Fortunately, Wade had a
friend at the nearby University of Missouri, who told him that researchers
there were testing exercise regimens for people with the condition. Wade signed
on. He embarked on a supervised aerobic-exercise program three times a week and then added
Years ago, Wade might have been told to sit back, relax, and take it easy
and cautioned that exercise could put too much strain on his damaged knees. But
starting in the mid-1990s, a body of study findings indicated that exercise is
one of the best things you can do to alleviate the pain and functional
limitations of knee and hip arthritis.
"People's pain levels go down, and they also report functional
improvements in activities like climbing stairs, getting in and out of chairs,
and walking speed," says Marian Minor, PhD, PT, chair
of the department of physical therapy at the University of Missouri School of
Health Professions and a nationally known expert on arthritis and exercise.
Of course, a bit of caution is warranted: If you have arthritis, you want to
avoid joint injuries, so that means no contact sports or strenuous activities
with a high potential for impact on the joints, such as skiing. But walking,
biking, and low-impact aerobics have been extensively studied and show great
results for people with arthritis.
Wade is living proof. "Within three months of starting the program, I
was having almost no pain," he says. "I could walk up and down stairs
with my knees not tightening up. I could go out birding with my wife again.
"I'm totally sold on exercise."
An Exercise for Knee Osteoarthritis
The Exercise: For someone with knee osteoarthritis, exercises that
require deep knee bending aren't a good idea. Instead, do a modified squat that
doesn't take you down as low. Stand in front of a straight-backed chair and
slowly squat as if you're going to sit in it. As you squat, your knees should
remain over your ankles -- don't let them move forward past your ankles. Stop
if you feel any pain. Depending on your level of fitness, you might start out
doing five semi-squats three times a week, then move up to 10.
The Benefit: "We call this a functional exercise," says
exercise expert Marian Minor. "It gives you an improved range of motion,
improved strength, and improved muscular endurance, which we think helps
protect the joint from injury."