Exercise ‘bad for joints?’

New research, just published, suggests that if you’re over 45 – exercise, particuarly high impact exercise, like running – is bad for your knees. The study, from the University of California found that in the 45-55 year age group, those who were the most active were the most likely to have degenerative joint conditions, such as arthritis. I would like to level two criticisms at this finding: firstly, the results are based on ‘self-reported’ exercise (never very accurate) and MRI scans of the knees. It’s well known that there is little relationship between degeneration, shown on an MRI, and pain suffered by the individual. In other words, a person can suffer no pain and have degeneration or suffer great pain and have none. Secondly, the two highest risk factors for arthritis are overweight (fended off by regular exercise) and age (can’t do much about that one…). What’s more, the study findings fly in the face of previously published evidence, such as research from Stanford University that found runners experience less muscular and joint pain than non runners, and a study published in the Journal of Rheumatology, which found no difference in the amount or rate of degeneration in the knee and hip joints of runners and non-runners, although both groups experienced some degeneration with age. Given the urgent need to get the western world population active, sending out the message that ‘exercise is bad for you,’ is both inappropriate and damaging. Just like the ludicrous suggestion from the Scientific Advisory Committe that we need to increase our daily calorie intake (see ‘Advice that’s a fat lot of good, 16th November). Perhaps the researchers should bear in mind that lifetime heart attack mortality risk in highly active people is some 70 per cent lower than sedentary people before telling us to take it easy…

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