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Middle-aged exercise risk

30th November 2009

Middle-aged people of both sexes risk getting arthritis if they overdo their exercise, according to a recent US study.

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The study involved 236 asymptomatic participants enrolled in the National Institutes of Health Osteoarthritis Initiative.

Of the total participants, 136 were women and 100 were men, and all were between the ages of 45 and 55.

Osteoarthritis is usually more common in women than in men, and more likely to develop in older, heavier individuals.

But when the researchers examined people whose lifestyles made them particularly active, they found that those who exercised most also had the highest risk of developing osteoarthritis, even though they were within what is considered a normal weight range.

The researchers said that running and jumping were particularly damaging to the knees, cartilage, and ligaments, and that none of the people in the study had ever even reported knee pain before.

For the purposes of the study, the subjects were divided into three groups corresponding to three levels of physical activity.

The people whose levels of activity were highest did several hours of exercise every week and also had active lives at home.

When the researchers inspected MRI scans of the knees of people from all three groups, they found that damage such as tears and lesions was more closely associated with levels of exercise than with age or gender.

The researchers also said that the relative effects of different kinds of exercise on osteoarthritis will need to be addressed by another study.

Study leader Christoph Stehling, a researcher at the University of California said that his team's data suggest that high impact, weight-bearing physical activity, such as running and jumping, may be worse for cartilage health, while low-impact activities, such as swimming and cycling, may protect diseased cartilage and prevent healthy cartilage from developing disease.

The specific knee abnormalities identified by the study included meniscal lesions, cartilage lesions, bone marrow edema and ligament lesions.


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