Slowing Osteoarthritis Progression 

Learn about healthy lifestyle choices that can help ease joint pain and keep OA from getting worse.

Osteoarthritis (OA) was once considered a disorder in which joints simply wore out – the unavoidable result of a long and active life. But research has shown that OA is a complex process with many causes. It is not an inevitable part of aging experts say, but rather the result of a combination of factors, many of which can be modified or prevented. Here are doctor recommendations to reduce the risk of OA or delay its onset.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight puts additional pressure on weight-bearing joints, such as the hips and knees. Each pound you gain adds nearly four pounds of stress to your knees and increases pressure on your hips six-fold. The extra strain breaks down the cartilage that cushions these joints and that gets worse over time. 
But mechanical stress is not the only problem. Fat tissue produces proteins called cytokines that promote inflammation throughout the body. In the joints, cytokines destroy tissue by altering the function of cartilage cells. When you gain weight, your body makes and releases more of these destructive proteins. Unless you are very overweight, losing even a few pounds can reduce joint stress and inflammation.

Control Blood Sugar

High blood sugar (glucose) levels speed the formation of certain molecules that make cartilage stiffer and more sensitive to mechanical stress. Diabetes can also trigger systemic inflammation that leads to cartilage loss. The newly discovered connection between diabetes and joint damage may help explain why more than half of Americans diagnosed with diabetes also have arthritis.

Get Physical

Physical activity is the best available treatment for OA. It's also one of the best ways to keep joints healthy in the first place. As little as 30 minutes of moderately intense exercise five times a week helps joints stay limber and strengthens the muscles that support and stabilize your hips and knees. Exercise also strengthens the heart and lungs, lowers diabetes risk and is a key factor in weight control.
You don't have to join a gym or have a formal workout plan to benefit. Walking, gardening – even scrubbing floors – count. But the greatest results come with a consistent and progressive exercise program adjusted for your age, fitness level and the activities you enjoy most.

No matter what type of exercise you choose, listen to your body. If you have pain after a workout that persists more than an hour or two, do less next time and take more breaks. To avoid injury, go slow until you know how your body reacts to a new activity and don't repeat the same exercise every day. 

Protect Joints

Although injuries aren't always avoidable, it pays to protect your joints and prevent OA from getting worse. At home or work, use your largest, strongest joints for lifting and carrying and take breaks when you need to. After an injury, maintaining a healthy weight can help guard against further joint damage.

Choose a Healthy Lifestyle

Some risk factors for OA can’t be changed. For instance, OA becomes more common as people age, possibly because the number of cartilage cells simply diminishes over time. Lower estrogen levels after menopause may also play a role, because more women than men develop OA, especially after age 50. In addition, some people inherit genes that make them more likely to develop OA.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, the best defense against any disease, including OA, is a healthy lifestyle. Diet, exercise, sleep, managing stress and whether you smoke, or drink can have a tremendous influence on overall health, and the health of your joints.

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