Small Steps, Big Changes
You don’t have to lose 100 pounds, like Lutchansky, to see a difference in your pain levels. C. Thomas Vangsness, Jr., MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery and chief of sports medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, says most of his arthritis patients who lose weight notice that their pain is diminishing after losing about 20 pounds.
Jane Angelich, a 58-year-old California businesswoman, has lost 33 pounds on Weight Watchers.
“What a difference!” she says. “It starts when I get out of bed in the morning. No more limping around and groaning for the first few minutes. Instead of finding excuses to sit on my couch instead of walking around, I now walk the equivalent of a 5k without any issues and can even function the next day!”
Losing weight cannot repair the damage that’s already been done to your joints by arthritis, but in addition to decreasing your pain, it can also help to slow down the further progression of the disease. One study found that knee osteoarthritis in obese men would decrease by 21.5% if they lost enough weight to be categorized as merely overweight; for women, arthritis would decrease by 31%.
“The damage is already done, and arthritis is a progressive process,” says Westrich. “But weight loss can be tremendously helpful in alleviating pain, allowing greater function, and prolonging the period of time before someone needs joint replacement surgery.”
And if you haven’t developed arthritis but you’re worried about it, losing excess weight can significantly lower your risk. Research has shown that over 10 years, losing 10 pounds may cut your risk of developing arthritis by more than 50%.
Making It Happen
The best way to lose weight, any doctor will tell you, is to eat less, eat healthy foods, and exercise more. But while someone with arthritis can start to change their eating habits in pretty much the same way that someone without the disease can, having arthritis makes exercise a little more complicated.
High-impact exercise, like running, jogging, and aerobics, can put too much stress on the joints, so doctors recommend against these activities. “They can hasten the arthritis process and cause injury,” says Westrich.