I thought that headline would get you.
The story behind it, though, is quite encouraging. A Finish study followed several women with osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee for 16 months – a long term study by comparison to most in the exercise world. It had some of the postmenopausal women do thrice weekly one-hour sessions of intense aquatics, or water aerobics, for four month.
Based on the experience and literature of the researchers, it is widely accepted that being overweight once you are diagnosed with OA hastens the joint’s descent toward surgery. The aches and pains of OA mitigate both one’s ability and one’s desire to engage in overground impact loading.
Enter water aerobics, or aquatics. This is a training modality that takes place in different depths of a pool such that the deeper the water, the less body weight you are supporting. That’s buoyancy for you. As you get stronger and fitter, you move into shallower waters to force the muscles to work even harder.
The intensity of any workout depends on a few things. First, the continuity of the exercises. Too much lag time between them and the intensity is diminished. Too little rest between them and you fizz out too soon.
Second is the type of exercises. Large, multi-joint muscle exercises like squats and push ups demand more oxygen than do biceps curls and heel raises, or small, single-joint muscle exercises.
Third is the total volume of muscles that are active. A weight machine squat (like a Smith machine) uses fewer muscles for the same relative load on a free weight barbell squat. Why? Because the free weight work requires small stabilization muscles to work while the machine exercise holds you up and in line.
Finally, the degree of body support matters. Thus, if you are standing on earth you are supporting your body weight on your legs; that burns calories. If you are standing in a swim pool, the same muscles may be working but you are supporting less of your mass.
The point is, aquatics are a safe environment in which to engage in vigorous exercise with less load on arthritic joints, enabling both higher intensity exercises, less rest, more continuity, and larger muscle groups to be involved….with less impact, less loading. And less risk of falling catastrophically!
So the study showed that after 4 months, the aquatics group was able to maintain weight loss and move more even on dry land than were their non-aquatics study members.
Weight maintenance is, it seems the authors believe, the key to the benefits of this program: “the decrease in body mass and increase in walking speed achieved safely with aquatic resistance training are both large enough to prevention worsening of clinical symptoms and slow or even stop the loss of cartilage which are typical finding in late-stage knee osteoarthritis.”
So what’s the take home message here? Simple, in three short statements they are:
1. move more as vigorously as you can to lose weight or keep it off if you have OA
2. eat less, or just enough, to fuel your body for its daily needs
& 3. do aquatics if your knee hurts too much to exercise on dry land hard enough.
That’s why I say, aquatics and arthritis don’t mix. Not because you should not do aquatics if you have arthritis but because doing aquatics helps you beat arthritis.
Oh yes, one more key point. Find a knowledgeable trainer who can create and direct your exercise program if you have a condition like arthritis of a major joint.