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Walking more may reduce risk of functional limitations from knee osteoarthritis, study finds

June 20, 2014

New research suggests that for people with knee osteoarthritis (OA) – or people at risk for OA – walking more may reduce the risk of physical limitations. A new study found that walking about 6,000 steps per day may protect against these limitations.

The study results are based on how many steps people walked while going about their daily activities, not on walking that was part of an exercise program. The results showed that walking an extra 1,000 steps per day was linked to a 16-18 per cent lower risk of developing functional limitations.

Types of limitations that may affect people with OA include slow walking speed, as well as having difficulty doing things such as:

  • getting up from a chair
  • getting in or out of a car
  • using stairs
  • completing daily activities like shopping or light housework

Exercise programs have been shown to help reduce these problems, but researchers didn’t know if unstructured walking might also help. Unstructured walking, or daily walking, is the walking that people do while going about their daily routine.

The study, led by researchers at Boston University, followed 1,788 women and men for two years. All of the study subjects were between ages 50 and 79, and all had knee OA or were at risk of OA. At the beginning of the study, the amount of daily walking each participant did was measured using an activity monitor. Participants were asked to wear the activity monitors for one week. The researchers used data from the monitors to calculate the average number of steps each participant walked per day.

Two years later, the study subjects were checked for physical limitations. The researchers then looked at whether participants’ daily walking habits were linked to physical function.

The results showed that walking more was associated with lower risk of functional limitations. For people with knee OA or those at risk of OA, the researchers suggest a preliminary goal of walking 3,000 steps per day, with the goal of gradually increasing to 6,000 steps per day.

OA is the most common form of arthritis, and one of the most common conditions affecting older Canadians.

The study was published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research on June 12, 2014.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital