Judy is in her early 60s. When I first met her as a client close to eight years ago, she was carrying about 45 extra pounds. The excess weight bothered her – she did not like the way she looked, and she had a knee issue that was diagnosed as early osteoarthritis. Her cholesterol profile was not picture perfect by any means, and her blood pressure was elevated. When I asked Judy which of these issues bothered her the most, she told me, “I hate the way I look and I really hate the fact that I know if I weighed less my knee would hurt less.”
Yes, I agreed that if she lost some of the excess weight, she would certainly feel better about her appearance. I also echoed the reality, that if she had less weight bearing down on her knee, she would indeed probably have less pain and a better quality of life. Judy did not want to address her diet in any meaningful way. She did not want to talk about emotional eating nor did she want to keep a food journal. She just wanted to start exercising. She felt that she could commit to that one habit change and so we embarked on a relationship that involved me slowly introducing her to gentle movement first and then full on weight training, with free weights and specific weight machines, as well as a program of flexibility movements. Judy did aerobic training on her own (two days a week of brisk walking) and we trained together for an hour, 3 days a week. The payoff was slow but steady with her physique developing a more toned look, and biceps beginning to peek out. Her knee pain began to improve and she began to feel stronger. I continued to bring up her diet, periodically, with suggestions here and there, but there was still a great deal of resistance.
January 1st of our fourth year together, I showed up at her home with some garbage bags and when she opened the door I simply said, “If you want to really lose the weight, improve your health and target the ongoing knee pain, then we need to tackle your diet.” The intervention worked, and 2 hours later, much of the highly processed food in the pantry and refrigerator had been tossed or donated. We spent an hour food shopping together and discussing food groups, nutrition labels, fiber and protein, and returned to her home to prep and organize a menu for the week. It took Judy about 7 months to lose the weight and to really embrace a whole new way of nourishing her body. Of course, once the “extra 45” as we called it was gone, those muscles she’d been developing for four years were fully exposed. Her knee pain was intermittent and her quality of life was vastly improved. We have continued the relationship, off and on as needed. My role as a personal trainer, nutritionist and health coach, serves to support Judy and to re-tool her diet and workouts, so she can continue to maintain her weight, her health, and her significantly improved mobility. To date, her osteoarthritis occasionally acts up, and Judy realizes that she may still require more serious therapeutic measures. For now, Judy’s weight, diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids from nuts, seeds and fish and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables, as well as her fitness regimen, are helping to slow the osteoarthritis progression and pain.
So what is the take-away message?
Joints need movement to stay healthy. A moderate exercise plan that includes low impact aerobic activity coupled with weight training and range-of-motion exercises can help to reduce stiffness, increase flexibility and help to improve the strength of the knee cartilage. A fitness program will also help to reduce excess weight so there is less pressure bearing down on the affected joints. In the case of osteoarthritis of the knee, this kind of an exercise program also helps to strengthen muscles of the upper leg, which assist the knee joint’s integrity.
Dietary changes that include the superstars from all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, low fat and fat free dairy, lean proteins including omega-3 rich fish, beans, nuts and seeds, whole grain and high fiber grains, and healthier fats), as well as a daily calorie count that promotes steady weight loss, is also crucial. Extra weight is one of the big contributors to the pain component of osteoarthritis and may also contribute to accelerate the degenerative changes.
Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch? Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103. Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.
Published On: May 23, 2013