Avoiding Disability Through Light Activity

Osteoarthritis patients and those at risk for arthritis may prevent disability with light exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Only intense physical activity like running has real health benefits, right? Think again.

A recent study of adults with knee osteoarthritis risk factors or symptoms examined the effects of light, moderate and vigorous physical activity.

The researchers found that, over a period of two years, the participants who spent the most time physically active were least likely to lose the ability to perform basic tasks for daily living.

Additionally, these researchers noted that physical activity provided protection against disability regardless of intensity.

They suggested that this finding is especially important for people with more severe knee osteoarthritis who may be unable to perform more vigorous physical activity.

"Stay physically active as you age."

Dorothy Dunlop, PhD, of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine Center for Healthcare Studies at Northwestern University, led this study.

According to Dr. Dunlop and colleagues, disability drives up healthcare costs, especially among older adults. However, physical activity can improve health outcomes and reduce the risk of developing some diseases.

This study looked at how light to moderate physical activity affected the development and progress of disability among patients who had or were at risk of developing knee osteoarthritis.

For the purposes of this study, the researchers defined "disability" as having difficulty carrying out basic tasks of independent living and self care.

A total of 1,680 adults aged 49 or older without disability as baseline (start of the study) participated in this study. An additional 134 participants had mild to moderate disability at baseline.

The researchers measured the participants' levels of physical activity using a wearable device that measured movement.

Participants wore the device for seven days in a row.

At baseline and during the two-year follow-up, the researchers asked participants if they had developed disability with regard to certain tasks and activities in their daily lives.

For the group of participants with existing disability, they asked whether their disability had become more or less severe.

After the study was completed, the researchers found 149 new cases of disability among the adults who had been free of disability at baseline.

Participants who spent the most time performing light physical activity had the least disability after two years.

The group that developed the most disability over two years consisted of the participants who spent the least amount of time doing light or moderate-vigorous physical activity.

Similarly, the greatest disability progression occurred among those participants who spent the least time being lightly or moderately active.

The authors of this study concluded that adults with or at risk for knee osteoarthritis who were not active had a significantly higher risk of developing disability.

These authors pointed out that more time spent in light physical activity was tied to less disability, regardless of participants' time spent in moderate to vigorous physical activity.

The authors suggested that adults with knee osteoarthritis symptoms or risk factors should increase their daily physical activity time, even if they are only lightly active.

This study was published in BMJ on April 29.

The research was funded by the National Institute for Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases and by the Falk Medical Trust. Several Pharmaceutical companies also helped fund the study. None of the authors declared any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 7, 2014
Last Updated:
May 8, 2014