Brisk Walking Benefits Adults with Arthritic Knees

It seems inevitable that a few aches and pains associated with aging will crop up as we get older but a daily walk can improve arthritic knees and may even lower the risk for needing knee replacement surgery significantly.

According to a recent University of Delaware study of more than 1,800 adults with osteoarthritis of the knee, participants who walked with moderate to high intensity for 5 minutes were less likely to need knee replacement surgery over the next 5 years.  Walking at a lighter pace did not result in the same benefits.

It may seem counter-intuitive for patients with knee arthritis to push themselves to walk at a moderate-to-vigorous pace, which may cause pain, but short bursts of brisk walking can also help to build and maintain strength, preserving function.  How fast is moderate or vigorous walking?  For the purposes of the study, researchers defined brisk walking as more than 100 steps per minute.

By ramping up your walking speed for just 5 minutes, a least 4 times each week, on your daily walk, you might be able to delay or avoid a total knee replacement.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends adults get at least 20 to 30 minutes of moderate physical exercise each day to prevent and reduce the severity of chronic illnesses including high blood pressure and diabetes.  Regular exercise also improves mood and helps older adults maintain function, allowing them to remain independent longer. 

You can increase your intensity while walking by adding hills or stairs or by picking up the pace. Farklets, a Swedish term for “speed play”, are informal intervals that walkers or runners can build into their exercise routine.   Try walking with a friend and having a short 2 or 3 minute walk race or try to beat your best time using an activity tracker.

More than 600,000 knee replacement surgeries are performed each year in the United States.   Like any surgery, knee replacement carries risks that can include infection, blood clots, heart attack, stroke and nerve damage. For most people, knee replacement alleviates pain, improves mobility and offers patients a better quality of life.  On average, knee replacements will last more than 15 years.

Learn more about knee replacement surgery by following this link to the Mayo Clinic website.