If you have osteoarthritis of the knees, does this mean fast walking is off-limits? Must you confine yourself to turtle walking until you get a knee replacement?

Researchers from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago wanted to find out if it was safe, or even beneficial, for people with knee osteoarthritis to briskly walk for a sustained period of time.

How the Study Was Done

• Data from over 1,500 senior adults was analyzed. Their medical data had been part of the national Osteoarthritis Initiative.

• The participants wore accelerometers to monitor activity over a four year period.

• What’s important is that none of the subjects had pain, aches or stiffness at the start of the study.

Would there be a difference in activity level among those who eventually developed pain and stiffness at the end of the study, compared to those who still remained symptom-free?

After analyzing the results, the researchers found that one hour – a week – of “moderate to vigorous” activity was safe and helped prevent debilitating pain and stiffness.

An accumulation of one hour a week of brisk exercise lowered the risk of mobility impairment by 85%.

The researchers considered swift walking to be moderate to vigorous. An accelerometer will surely record brisk walking.

At the study’s conclusion (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, May 2019, Dunlop et al), 24% of the participants, whose accelerometers recorded LESS than an hour a week of brisk walking, were not able to walk across a street fast enough to beat the light change!

Slow walking is what’s not safe for this population.

And 23% reported they had difficulty with regular morning tasks.

How to Incorporate an Hour’s Worth of Brisk Walking into Every Week

It need not be done all at once. Ten minutes a day will do the trick.

• Every chance you get, walk at a fast pace. This includes from your car to the convenience store and back; down store aisles unless you’re searching for something in that particular aisle; to and from the mail box; down corridors at work; inside other buildings as well; and even around your house.

• If you’ve been walking a dog, pick up the pace, even if it’s a small dog. Fast walking is good for dogs, too.

• If you have access to a treadmill, walk briskly on it for 10 minutes every day, or maybe 15 minutes four times a week – or whatever permutation works best for you.

Proper Treadmill Use

Everyone, including seniors with osteoarthritis, should use a treadmill correctly.

Holding onto the treadmill will not help prevent mobility impairment or increases in pain or stiffness.

Holding on will negatively alter gait mechanics and will make things worse, such as skewering walking posture and causing over-rotation of the hips – which can lead to aches there.

• When you hold onto a treadmill for extended walking, your core muscle group learns that it’s no longer needed for walking.

• Your body also learns that it needs help with balance, which will make it less capable of stopping a fall from a slip or trip.

Holding onto a treadmill mimics using a walker. You’re not ready for a walker, are you?

What if you can’t walk briskly on a treadmill?

Maybe you CAN but don’t realize it. A 3 mph pace can qualify as brisk for a sedentary older adult with osteoarthritis.

If you feel a need to grasp the machine, then try 2 mph. Though that’s not brisk, it will acclimate your body to keeping up with a moving tread without holding on.

You WILL get used to it, and as you do, then increase the speed a little until you’re up to a brisk pace.

If 3 mph no longer feels swift, then increase the speed even more.

Using an incline is not necessary unless you want to add variety. But do not hold on unless you’re momentarily checking heart rate, drinking water or changing the settings.

What’s very important for osteoarthritis is that you practice correct form and posture when walking.

This can only be accomplished by swinging your arms naturally when using a treadmill. This is very safe to do.

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.