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Aging | Elderly Increase Mobility by Exercise Through Knee Pain

Elderly Increase Mobility by Exercise Through Knee Pain

As people age, the wear and tear on the knee joints can limit one’s capacity to perform daily activities such as bathing, dressing, and moving from a seated to a standing position without help. However, it appears that regular exercise may allow senior citizens suffering from osteoarthritis of the knee greater independence and a higher quality of life, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.1

The study examined 250 people over the age of 60 (average age = 69) with known osteoarthritis of the knees and no other current physical limitations. For 18 months, participants engaged in hour-long sessions of cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise or resistance (weight) training three times per week, or no exercise at all. Activities-of-daily-living (ADL) questionnaires that inquired about five essential functions were completed every three months to identify disabilities. The results of the study showed that both resistance and aerobic exercise lowered the risk of developing an ADL disability (by 40% and 47%, respectively) compared with no exercise. However, aerobic exercise had a more profound effect than weight training. The greatest benefit was seen in those assigned to cardiovascular exercise who followed the exercise program most faithfully; among those individuals there was a 62% decrease in risk. Furthermore, participants in both exercise groups reported a decrease in knee pain.

While the mechanism of how exercise helps improve mobility in people with osteoarthritis is unknown, the authors speculate it may be due to improved muscle strength and balance, reduced knee pain, increased confidence in physical movement and less fear of falling, or possibly weight loss. It is encouraging that positive results were seen in participants in both exercise programs, despite many being almost 70 years old; this indicates that even the elderly can benefit from starting an exercise program.

In addition to exercise, specific nutritional supplements may decrease the pain of osteoarthritis. Studies have shown that glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate can relieve symptoms and possibly prevent the progression of the disease.2 3 S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe) and niacinamide also help reduce pain, although their mechanism of action is unclear.4 5 Despite the positive effects of exercise and nutritional supplements, they have not been studied together, so the effectiveness of combining the two to prevent ADL disabilities remains unknown.


1. Penninx BW, Messier SP, Rejeski WJ, et al. Physical exercise and the prevention of disability in activities of daily living in older persons with osteoarthritis. Arch Intern Med 2001;161:2309–16.
2. Reginster JY, Deroisy R, Rovati LC, et al. Long-term effects of glucosamine sulphate on osteoarthritis progression: a randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Lancet 2001;357:251–6.
3. Uebelhart D, Thonar EJ, Delmas PD, et al. Effects of oral chondroitin sulfate on the progression of knee osteoarthritis: a pilot study. Osteoarthritis Cartilage 1998;6(Suppl A):39S–46S.
4. Caruso I, Pietrogrande V. Italian double-blind multicenter study comparing S-adenosylmethionine, naproxen, and placebo in the treatment of degenerative joint disease. Am J Med 1987;83(Suppl 5A):66–71.
5. Jonas WB, Rapoza CP, Blair WF. The effect of niacinamide on osteoarthritis: a pilot study. Inflamm Res 1996;45:330–4.

Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Westport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.

Copyright © 2001 Healthnotes, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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The health information contained in this site is not intended as medical advice and should not be considered a substitute for appropriate medical care. Any products mentioned in studies cited in Healthnotes articles are not necessarily endorsed by Bastyr. As with any product, consult with a natural health practitioner to discuss what may be best for you.


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