June 20, 2011

No more excuses; exercise and knees

If you have been using bad knees as a reason to avoid exercise, it is time to find another excuse.  Traditional wisdom has held that running and weight lifting can cause or worsen osteoarthritis.  However, a recent study (1) found that physical activity is associated with improved cartilage health.  This study included long distance runners, soccer players and weight lifters.  Another study (2), found that people over age 65 with osteoarthritis of the knee, who began a program of Tai Chi (a traditional Chinese style of marital arts), had improved function and less pain.  Step aerobics became a huge group exercise phenomenon after an exercise instructor realized that her knee rehab program of stepping up and down a raised platform was giving her a great aerobic workout. 
This does not mean you should ignore knee pain and go run a 5K, but you should not dismiss exercise as impossible.  Get clearance from a physician first.  If you have had severe or chronic pain, you may want to consider physical therapy.  Start any new program slowly, with gradual increases in distance or intensity.  Keep in mind, that while exercise can be instrumental in fighting knee problems, the best way most people can relieve knee pain is to lose weight.

1.Chenchen Wang, Christopher H. Schmid, Patricia L. Hibberd, Robert Kalish, Ronenn Roubenoff, Ramel Rones, and Timothy McAlindon. Tai Chi Is Effective in Treating Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, 2008; 16S32 DOI: 10.1016/S1063-4584(08)60092-8
2. Wiley-Blackwell (2009, November 1). Tai Chi Exercise Reduces Knee Osteoarthritis  Pain In The Elderly, Research Shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from­ /releases/2009/10/091029102417.htm

June 8, 2011

Low intensity is not a waste of time:

I have written about the benefits of interval training and the need to work hard to get results; however that does not mean there is no benefit in low intensity exercise.  First of all, no one can (or should) train at high intensity all the time.  Rest and recovery are crucial components of a fitness program.  It is very appropriate (and recommended) to alternate days of high intensity training with a low intensity workout. 
But if you choose to only work out at an easy level, you are not wasting your time.  Real benefits can be accrued from even low intensity exercise.  Moderate walking for just an hour a week has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease.  Low intensity exercise has been shown to lessen symptoms of fatigue by 65% in sedentary people (so there goes the excuse of being too tired to exercise!).   Other studies have shown that light exercise can decrease symptoms of stress, lower blood sugar and reduce blood pressure.  Easy walking on a treadmill has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s.  This does not mean you should give up your high intensity workouts; you just need to be aware of your goals.  If you want to lose weight, compete in a triathlon or increase your fitness level you will need to sweat.  But for those looking to improve health or just feel better, even a little exercise is better than none.