According to a new Northwestern Medicine study, light physical activity can help individuals with knee arthritis, or at-risk for the condition, avoid developing disabilities as they age. The scientists identified a group of almost 1,700 adults, ages 45 to 79 years, from the Osteoarthritis Initiative study who were free of disability but were at elevated risk for developing it because they either had knee osteoarthritis (OA) or had other risk factors for knee OA. Researchers had participants wear an accelerometer during waking hours for about a week to track the amount and intensity of physical activity.

A news release from Northwestern University indicates that 2 years after collecting the accelerometer results, participants were surveyed and asked about the development of disabilities. The data showed that more time spent in moderate or vigorous activity was associated with lower reports of disabilities. In addition, researchers also found that greater time spent in light intensity activities was also related to fewer disabilities, even after accounting for time spent in moderate activities.

The results of the study revealed that those who spent more than 4 hours per day performing light physical activity had more than a 30% reduction in the risk for developing disability compared to those spending only 3 hours per day in light activity. The Northwestern University news release notes that the findings controlled for time spent in moderate or vigorous physical activity and other predictors of disability.

Dorothy Dunlop, PhD, of Northwestern University, says, “Our findings provide encouragement for adults who may not be candidates to increase physical activity intensity due to health limitations. Even among those who did almost no moderate activity, the more light activity they did, the less likely they were to develop disability.”

Dunlop adds, “Now people with health problems or physical limitations, who cannot increase the intensity of their activity, have a starting place in the effort to stay independent.”

Source: Northwestern University