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To Keep Knees Working Well, Walk 6,000 Steps Every Day

People who take 6,000 steps or more a day nearly every day seem to reduce their likelihood of functional limitations from knee arthritis.

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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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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