If you make excuses for your sedentary lifestyle, beware, because you’re setting yourself up for very probable osteoarthritis in the future:
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint process that most commonly strikes knees, hips and spine.
Do not accept the idea that osteoarthritis is a natural, non-preventable fallout of the aging process.
I consulted with Jason Dapore, DO (doctor of osteopathic), who specializes in sports medicine, Spine Sport and Joint Center, Columbus, OH.
I asked Dr. Dapore straight out if a sedentary lifestyle, or lack of exercise, could cause osteoarthritis, as well as narrowing of the spinal column (known as spinal stenosis).
“Too much sitting with poor posture for more than four hours daily can indeed lead to degenerative back conditions because much stress is placed on the intervertebral discs and the facet joints.
“These degenerative changes can lead to narrowing of the spinal column (spinal stenosis) as well as the nerve tunnels.”
When people began developing osteoarthritis, they decide to become more sedentary.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Continued wear and tear on the degenerating joints will make the condition worse, more painful, and eventually debilitating, leaving surgery as the only option for pain relief (i.e., knee replacement).
The key, then, is prevention of osteoarthritis.
Though there are risk factors like obesity and sports related injuries to the knees and hip, for instance, a powerful prevention tool is that of regular, structured exercise – with proper biomechanics.
This means, for example, brisk walking that very much elevates your heart rate (if brisk walking doesn’t elevate it, then add hills or inclines, or jog).
However, the proper biomechanics (a fancy way of saying good form), means moving the way nature intended, rather than gripping onto a treadmill and jarring your spinal column unnaturally and forcing the hips to over-rotate as compensation for the upper body being locked into the gripping position.
Structured exercise means deliberate, intentional, purposeful physical activity, rather than incidental movement that occurs on a lengthy shopping trip.
This means that to prevent osteoarthritis, or minimize its effect if you do eventually develop it, do not count “all the walking” you did at Walmart or Home Depot as your fitness walking session for the day.
When you get home, you still must commit to a rhythmic, arm-pumping walk that sustains an elevated heart rate, or some other form of exercise like martial arts or inline skating.
A study by Link et al shows that exercise can delay or prevent osteoarthritis:
“… engaging in light exercise and refraining from frequent knee-bending activities may protect against the onset of the disease.”
What is “light” exercise? It can be the walking I just described. It can be a group fitness class, step aerobics, spin class.
Moderate exercise can be done in the form of strength training exercises for the legs and hips (e.g., deadlifts, leg presses).
Squats are also safe; don’t let your thighs go past parallel to the floor or ground.
“Knee-bending activities” usually refer to deep knee-bending such as what’s done while gardening.
As a former personal trainer, I’m a strong advocate of very intense strength training for “apparently healthy people” for the prevention of musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis.
But some populations, such as older, sedentary people who have no history of strength training or weight-bearing exercise, may need to limit strength training to light and moderate efforts, and forego strenuous levels, since attempting grueling workouts could result in injury to an already deteriorated body.
It’s a case-by-case basis, and there are older folks who, after cautiously building up a foundation of conditioning, have been able to safely carry out rigorous levels of exercise.
How often do you sit in a chair every day? Watch out.
If you’re going to the gym several times a week for an hour, but then spend substantial amounts of time sitting, you are at risk for osteoarthritis!
Every 30-45 minutes, get out of that chair and for a few minutes walk back and forth; march in place; do some jumping jacks; go up and down on a step; dance; do walking or stationary lunges; hop on the stationary bike, etc.
A sedentary lifestyle and excessive sitting are prime risk factors for osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis.
To help prevent spinal stenosis, do strength training routines like deadlifts, seated rows and back extensions.
Dr. Dapore is a fellowship-trained sports medicine physician, providing comprehensive, non-operative solutions for acute sports injuries.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.