Approximately 50 million American adults report being told by their medical practitioner that they suffer from some form of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus or fibromyalgia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2030, this number is expected to rise even higher, to approximately 67 million sufferers. Arthritis pain can be debilitating, and often negatively affects an individuals’ personal life as well as their professional life. Arthritis sufferers often search endlessly for pain relief options that will help them to live as normal a life as possible. New research from the Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has found that intensive weight loss combined with regular exercise can be used as a pain relief option for obese and overweight individuals suffering with knee arthritis.
The study looked at 454 overweight and obese individuals that had mild or moderate knee arthritis. The participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: those who received 18 months of diet counseling, those who practiced 18 months of exercise, or those who received 18 months of diet counseling a long with exercise combined. Participants that were in the diet counseling group had a weight loss goal of 10% of their initial weight. In order to achieve their weight loss goals, participants replaced some meals with shakes, and attended regular weigh-in sessions as well as nutrition sessions. Participants assigned to the exercise-only group were to participate in regular physical activity three times per week, incorporating both aerobic and weight training exercises. Participants that were assigned to the combined group completed both of the above described tasks for the study period.
The results showed that participants that took part in the combined diet and exercise program lost an average of 23 pounds, while those in the diet-only group lost 20 pounds, and those in the exercise-only group lost four pounds.
For the study, pain levels were measured using a 0-20 point scale, with a higher pain level being associated with a higher number. Scores for individuals in the combined diet and exercise group decreased by 3.1 points and by 1.4 points in the exercise-only group (a similar decrease in pain level was also seen in the diet-only group). In regards to knee function, a scale from 0-68 was used. Scores for individuals in the combined diet and exercise group improved by 10.5 points on average, while those in the exercise-only group improved by only 4.7 points on average. Additionally, individuals in the combined exercise and diet group as well as those in the diet-only group also had less knee inflammation compared to the individuals in the exercise only group. In summary, at the 18 month mark, individuals in the combined diet and exercise group reported lower knee inflammation, greater pain relief and higher functioning than those in the other groups.
Interestingly, participants who lost 10% or more of their initial weight saw more improvement in knee functioning and other arthritis measures no matter which group they were assigned to. Therefore, it’s important to remember that even a small amount of weight loss is beneficial for those suffering with arthritis and should be encouraged.
Both diet and exercise on their own are beneficial for pain relief as well as for control of inflammation and improved functioning for individuals with arthritis. However, combining the two provides superior benefits for arthritis sufferers. Engaging in regular physical activity and consuming a healthy diet should be an integral part of a treatment plan for all individuals living with arthritis.