If someone asked you what the leading cause of disability in America is, what would you say? Most people I asked had a lot of great responses, including injuries at work, car accidents, cancer, heart attacks, and stroke. Although there is no doubt that all these conditions are causes for disability, they aren’t the leading cause. Osteoarthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S.* The disease destroys the cartilage that cushions your joints and over time causes them to become stiff and painful, eventually leading to inmobility. Once a patient is diagnosed, research has shown that there is a significant decline in their physical activity, with 44% of patients reporting that they have no physical activity at all. Reading the statistics alarmed me. It’s becoming a major public health problem. Whats worse is that the growing obesity epidemic in America is only exacerbating the chances of Americans developing osteoarthritis in the knee. For every pound of body weight you carry, you place a force of five pounds onto your knee.** So making healthy lifestyle choices and starting an exercise program can have a huge impact on reducing your chances of developing knee pain and cartilage deterioration that over time leads to osteoarthritis. The ADAPT study by Dr Stephen Messier at Wake Forest University found that participants in an 18-month program of exercise and a calorie-restricted diet showed a 24% improvement in physical function and a 30.3% decrease in knee pain. These improvements were better than those seen in patients relegated to exercise only or to diet only, as well as those seen in the control group.*** If you are at risk or living with osteoarthritis, following a balanced diet consisting of mostly vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, healthy fats, and healthy proteins could assist your weight loss efforts. There are a variety of exercises that can also help: - Exercises that promote stretching and range of motion, like yoga, pilates or even Tai Chi can help reduce stiffness in your joints. - Exercises that increase blood flow and heart rate, like an aerobics class, kick boxing, jogging, swimming or a brisk walk will help with weight management and may reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis. - Exercises that stregthen and build muslces, like resistance band training, kettlebell workouts or weightlifting will make your muscles strong and help strengthen the tendons that support your joints. It is important to note that not all knee pain is caused by being overweight. While some people may see significant benefits through weight loss, others may not see any benefit. Return2Fitness reminds you to consult with a physician about your specific knee pain before determining if weight loss is a realistic treatment option. Resources: * Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Nutrition. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/osteoarthritis.htm. ** WebMD.(2010). Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/6-ways-to-ruin-your-knees; (2005). Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/news/20050629/small-weight-loss-takes-pressure-off-knee. *** Medscape. (2004). Retrieved from: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/537794.