Editor's Note: This article was originally written by Daniel O'neill, M.D.
I want to continue our discussion of "easy" ways we can treat arthritis by starting with the toughest issue of all: weight. Like it or not, increased body weight is not good for your knees (or your hips, your back, your blood pressure, your...). I could give you lots of statistics like, in the past 15 years obesity rates have doubled, or one out of three kids are now considered obese. I could tell you this, but there is an easier way: go down to the local supermarket and look for yourself.
Notice I said supermarket- not Main Street or a high school basketball game or a Town Hall meeting. In these latter three examples, people made a choice to do an activity they don't have to do. When it comes to shopping for food, EVERYONE does it and thus you'll see a big cross-section of your local population. Start keeping a tally as you walk down the aisles. Unless you live in a college town, you will be horrified.
What we have done in America, and more and more around the globe, is build a fat -culture machine. Unhealthy but tasty food, automobiles, supermarkets where you can buy everything at one place, clickers for televisions, garage door openers, movies on demand at home, fewer gym classes, kids who don't know how to organize themselves to play games without an adult. No doubt you could rattle off ten more examples without even trying. We have built a society that allows - and even encourages - us to do nothing. (Did someone just clap and turn my computer off?)
In the arthritis business it's about impact and repetition. In other words, whether we're talking about your original knees or a knee replacement, you only have so much life in them before they wear out. Too much weight and that poor knee will be begging for mercy long before it's time. The other thing about being heavy - just watch a heavy person walk. It doesn't look pretty does it? Look close r- they turn their feet out and walk with a wide stance to stabilize the heavy load. This again adds up to increased, un-natural stresses across the joints. And remember, we're not even talking about heart disease, diabetes and a host of other maladies associated with being overweight.
So, that's the bad news. Now what? Well, I have two words for you: Get Up
Sure, I would like to tell you to get to the gym five times a week working with a personal trainer. I want to tell you to throw out all the cookies and other treats that will be tempting us over the next few weeks. But, of course, you understand all that and either will or won't do these things. Well, how about something as easy as spending more time on your feet?
"I have arthritis Dr. O'Neill, I want to get OFF my feet and my knees as much as possible." Actually, what we are learning is that the more time you spend upright, not only do you burn more calories, but you strengthen your bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. You put your heart, lungs and intestines in better positions so they can do their job, and you are usually doing some good for you joints, not harm. Now, I'm not talking about the person standing on a cement floor in a machine shop all day. I'm talking about the commuter and office worker who is at a desk and on the phone and taking elevators. If we exercise 30 minutes a day but do little else, we are really not moving toward a healthier life. On the other hand, standing at a computer station, walking instead of driving, parking far from the door, doing some easy exercises while watching TV - these simple changes, over time, can make a huge difference. You know all those farmers and shepherds who were super-fit despite smoking and eating eggs every morning? It was the fact that they never stopped moving that made them that way - the fact that they never spent time sitting on their walking, standing and running muscles. (Imagine how healthy they would have been without the cigarettes and cholesterol!)
Let's start thinking in 2011 about little changes. Start with standing, walking and climbing more stairs. Continue with not taking the dog back to the house after his business, but extending the walk. Get Up and Stand Up not just for your rights, but for your life!