It’s January; a time of fresh starts and new resolutions and a recent report from the Radiological Society of North America is further proof that adhering to the right diet and taking a prudent approach to healthy living is not just for the first few weeks of the new year.
The study, the results of which were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), was an attempt to discover what role diet and exercise played in reducing the risk of knee osteoarthritis, and which method works best. It involved the tracking of 760 people with an average age of 63 and a body mass index of greater than 25, who either had mild to moderate osteoarthritis or were displaying risk factors for the disease.
The people involved were divided into two groups: those who had lost weight, and those who hadn’t. The weight-loss group were then divided into groups corresponding to how they lost weight: diet and exercise together, diet alone, and exercise alone. The research teams then measured knee osteoarthritis with MRI at the beginning of the study, after 48 months, and finally at 96 months.
Exercise is not enough
The results were interesting, to say the least: unsurprisingly, cartilage degeneration was significantly lower in the group which had lost weight compared to the group who over the 96 months. However, this finding was only present among the patients who lost weight through diet and exercise or diet alone – and although the group who only exercised lost as much weight as those who dieted, they displayed no significant difference in cartilage degeneration when compared to the group who lost no weight.
“The more weight loss the patients achieved, the greater the benefits were, even if they remained obese after losing weight,” said Dr Alexandra Gersing, of the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, in San Francisco and the study leader. “These results add to the hypothesis that solely exercise as a regimen in order to lose weight in overweight and obese adults may not be as beneficial to the knee joint as weight loss regimens involving diet.”
Exercise and diet go hand-in-hand
Why would exercise alone prove to be so ineffective in reducing the risks of developing knee osteoarthritis? The study doesn’t go that deep, unfortunately – but at a rough guess, weight loss through exercise would involve putting a lot more strain on the joints than shedding pounds through eating more of the right things. And, of course, more exercise means more muscle build, which can load up the strain on the joint areas.
However, no-one is playing down the benefits of regular exercise on the whole of the body, never mind the joints – and as good habits in the gym or on the track naturally lead to equally good habits in your diet, you should not be put off from embarking on an exercise regime this New Year. Naturally, you’re not advised to plunge in at the deep end: if you haven’t been active in the gym for a while, it makes sense to seek advice and work out an exercise plan that best suits your needs and capabilities.