Exercise That’s Really Fun—and Really Good for Knee Osteoarthritis
When you have osteoarthritis of the knee, regular exercise is crucial for reducing pain and improving movement. But that doesn’t mean it has to be another chore on your to-do list; the right exercise can be lots of fun. Here are some proven exercises that are so relaxing, refreshing and invigorating — you may just forget how healthy they really are.
In a fast-paced world, sometimes a calming exercise is just what you need. Tai chi began in ancient China as a martial art, but today it’s often practiced for health purposes. It combines smooth, flowing movements with a calm, alert state of mind — offering a gentle, stress-relieving workout for those with knee osteoarthritis.
A medical study (Arthritis Care & Research, 2009) conducted at Tufts Medical Center in Boston included 40 people age 55 and older with osteoarthritis of the knee. Half were randomly assigned to take tai chi classes, and half took wellness and stretching classes. Ultimately, those in the tai chi group showed a greater decrease in pain. Tai chi also led to improvements in physical function, depression, self-confidence and general health status, thanks in part to tai chi’s focus on the body and the mind.
Tai chi may also help improve flexibility and balance. And because it is done at your own level, it’s easily adaptable to any physical limitations. Tai chi classes are widely available at community centers, senior centers and martial arts studios; ask about the instructor’s experience with students who have knee problems.
Want to spice up your daily walk? Try doing it in the water. This fun twist on fitness walking is done in a swimming pool in waist- to chest-deep water.
In one study (Physical Therapy, 2008), 64 people with osteoarthritis of the knee were randomly assigned to take part in either water-based or land-based exercise for 18 weeks. The water-based program included water walking and exercises done in a pool. The land-based program included a similar routine on dry land. Both forms of exercise led to decreased knee pain and increased knee function. But by the study’s end, pain relief was even greater in the water-exercise group.
Water walking uses the buoyancy of water to help support your body, which takes pressure off your knees. Water also provides 12 times as much resistance as air, so walking through it gives your muscles an excellent workout. To find a water walking class, call your local Arthritis Foundation chapter, YMCA, fitness center or community pool.
Ever find yourself swaying to an offhand beat? If so, a dance class might be just the perfect choice for you. In general, dancing may improve flexibility and strengthen your leg muscles, which reduces stress on your knees that can lead to osteoarthritis relief.
But it turns out that learning to be light on your toes is a benefit unto itself. A 2009 review in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity looked at 13 studies regarding the effects of dance on older adults. Most of the studies found that dancing significantly improved participants’ balance, their ability to walk faster and climb stairs, and their agility overall.
Some forms of dance can also boost aerobic fitness. To qualify as moderate aerobic exercise, the dancing must get you breathing harder and your heart beating faster for at least 10 minutes straight. High-energy ballroom dance classes — such as some swing or salsa classes — may meet that standard.
Fitness dance classes are another option. You’ll find a wide range of styles, from jazz to hip-hop. Among the trendiest fitness dances today is Zumba, which fuses Latin rhythms with easy-to-follow moves. Zumba Gold classes are specifically geared to individuals of any age with physical limitations, so they’re a good choice for many people with osteoarthritis of the knee.
PLEASE NOTE: The studies and their findings that are presented in this article are for informational purposes only and are not meant to take the place of the advice of your doctor. By providing you with this information, Genzyme Corporation is not endorsing its content. You should consult with your doctor before starting any new health regimen.
"Hydrotherapy Versus Conventional Land-Based Exercise for the Management of Patients With Osteoarthritis of the Knee: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” L.E. Silva et al. Physical Therapy. 2008, vol. 88 pp. 12-21.
"Physical Benefits of Dancing for Healthy Older Adults: A Review.” J.W.L. Keogh et al. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2009, vol. 17, pp. 479-500.
"Tai Chi Is Effective in Treating Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” C. Wang et al. Arthritis Care & Research. 2009, vol. 61, pp. 1545-1553.
"The Effect of Tai Chi on Health Outcomes in Patients With Chronic Conditions: A Systematic Review.” C. Wang et al. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2004, vol. 164, pp. 493-501.