Obesity and arthritis can go hand-in-hand — which is why doctors often recommend weight loss to protect your joints. New research presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America confirms that losing weight can slow down cartilage deterioration of the knees — with a catch. Losing weight through exercise alone will not save your knees. However, weight loss via diet will.
The best way to protect your knees and lose weight
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease affecting approximately one-third of adults over the age of 60, and the knees are one of the most common places to get it. Because it’s impossible to reverse cartilage loss, slowing down its progression is key in treating arthritis. While the researchers knew that weight loss can help treat knee arthritis specifically, they wanted to find out if all methods produced the same results.
The findings reveal that to get the biggest benefit for your joints, your weight loss program should involve diet and exercise or diet alone. Exercise by itself did not contribute to cartilage protection.
What the study showed
The study involved 760 people from the Osteoarthritis Initiative (a nationwide research study for the prevention and treatment of knee osteoarthritis) who had a body mass index of greater than 25. The patients, who either had mild to moderate osteoarthritis or presented disease risk factors, were divided into two groups — those who lost weight and a control group who did not. The weight loss group was then divided by weight loss method: diet and exercise, diet alone, and exercise alone.
The researchers used an MRI to measure participants’ knee cartilage degeneration at the beginning of the study, then at 48 and 96 months. The weight loss group showed demonstrably lower degrees of cartilage degeneration, compared to the control group by the study’s end. However, this result only presented itself among the patients who lost weight through diet and exercise or through diet alone. In fact, while patients who lost weight through exercise alone lost as much weight as the other weight-loss groups, there were no pronounced differences in cartilage degeneration compared to the control group who didn’t lose any weight at all.
What you should take away from this study
First, don’t throw in the towel on all that exercise-induced sweating just yet. While exercise alone may not help your knees, including it with a dietary change will. Additionally, you may wish to rethink the type of exercise you do. While excessively and repeatedly pounding the pavement (i.e., running) may speed up knee degeneration, resistance training (exercises that prompt your muscles to work against external force, i.e. doing pushups or using dumbbells) is a low-impact way to decrease knee pain and improve daily function. Resistance training has also been shown to increase lean muscle mass; boost insulin sensitivity and metabolic rate; balance hormones; and improve resilience to fatigue, disease, pathogens, and toxins. There are plenty of good reasons to sweat it out—and resistance training is truly the bees’ knees in this case.
Secondly, to preserve your knees, diet is critical to a weight-loss regimen. This post offers six nutritional ways to get relief from arthritis, including: switching to good salt, avoiding sugar, adding collagen to your diet and supplementing with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric.