6,000 steps

A study shows that walking every day can help people with arthritic knees maintain their mobility. About 27 million American adults have osteoarthritis of the knee, and the pain that accompanies arthritic joints can make it hard to climb stairs or move around. About 80 percent of those with osteoarthritis have functional limitations.

In the study, almost 1,800 volunteers wore step counters for a week. Their walking speed and functional limitations were measured two years later. Those who took an additional 1,000 steps a day were at least 16 percent less likely to have serious limitations later.

Count Your Steps:

The investigators found that walking 6,000 steps a day was a good threshold for maintaining functional ability. Even though knee pain may make walking uncomfortable, continuing to walk can help control pain and more serious problems in the long run.

Arthritis Care & Research, June 12, 2014

Follow up on this group of study subjects found that two years later most people were still taking the same number of steps each day, on average. Those with symptoms of depression were covering less ground. There was a trend for people with worsening arthritis as determined by X-ray to be taking fewer steps as well, but that decline was quite small. The bottom line is that physical activity helps keeps joints working. Logging at least 6,000 steps a day (no penalty for more!) is good insurance.

Osteoarthritis and Cartilage, Feb., 2016 

Best Advice-Keep Moving!

The People’s Pharmacy perspective reinforces the value of continued activity to maintain joint function. This is not controversial. The special extra information from this study is the goal of at least 6,000 steps a day.

Most experts suggest aiming for 10,000 steps daily to maintain cardiovascular fitness and help with weight control, but 6,000 may be a more manageable goal for many people. Apparently 10,000 steps started as a marketing slogan for a Japanese pedometer manufacturer. Getting started with a goal of 6,000 steps a day may make it possible to ramp up to 7,000 or 8,000 steps later on. As the Arthritis Care & Research study shows, consistently taking fewer steps may mean less mobility in the future.

A simple pedometer to count steps can be purchased for $15 or less, although fancy electronic activity trackers are available for considerably more and offer more sophisticated tracking possibilities. If you are a competitive sort of person, you may enjoy connecting with your friends through FitBit or a similar activity tracking app to see who can reach the goal each day.

For those whose knee pain is already affecting their activity, we offer non-drug approaches to easing discomfort so you can keep moving in our Guide to Alternatives for Arthritis.

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  1. Terry

    How many miles is 6000 steps?? I walk daily but I don’t carry my phone, and I don’t want to carry or attach any devices. So how many miles approximately would 6000-10,000 steps be?

  2. Sue

    What about climbing stairs? I’ve heard contradictory advice on whether going up and down stairs is good or bad for people with knee osteoarthritis. On one hand, it would strengthen muscles around the knee, but on the other hand, it puts a lot of pressure on each joint each time a knee carries the weight of the whole body up/down one stair. Any advice on stairs? I do walk but I have stairs where I live. Are the stairs helping or hurting my arthritic knees? Thanks!

  3. Lynne

    Get a dog…solved my problem!!! Forced walking, relaxing and enjoying the outdoors. I even jog a little when it’s cool in the AM. You also get an unconditional friend and companion. Rescues are the best. I’m 55+ in otherwise great shape.

  4. Judith
    Kfar Saba, Israel

    Am I missing something? Or, is this a case of assuming that correlation is the same as causation? Clearly, the people whose pain is getting worse become more depressed and both lead them to walk less. Those whose pain is less and relatively unchanged walk more.

  5. Joanne
    Columbus, OH

    A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a torn meniscus in one knee. Walking was painful and limited. A rheumatologist said bike riding would be better for me than walking. I set up an exercycle at home. Riding daily, initially for only 5 minutes a day, brought relief, then complete recovery. I can walk up to an hour again.

  6. kaf

    Many cell phones have pedometers too, or one can be downloaded on smartphones for free. My daughter’s flip phone had one so I figured I should be able to find one for my Android with no problem and I did. My phone goes everywhere with me so it is a no Brainer.

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