Fitter childhood- lesser risk of Osteoarthritis in later life

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Fitter childhood- lesser risk of Osteoarthritis in later life

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease characterized by joints pain, stiffness and loss of mobility. It commonly affects the weight bearing joints of the body (such as knees and hips) and usually begins after the age of 40.

Normally the bone-ends in a joint are covered by joint cartilage (firm, rubbery cushion between bones) to facilitate movement and to prevent the bones from rubbing against each other. Factors like repeated trauma, advanced age, obesity may cause wear and tear or degeneration of the cartilage. The bone-ends in turn react to this degeneration (also known as reactive bone formation) by forming bony outgrowths called spurs, which impinge on adjoining sensitive, soft tissues causing pain. This results in osteoarthritis.

According to researchers, exercising regularly as a child can stop degeneration of the cartilage (occurring as a result of advanced age). Studies have shown that children who were more active and did vigorous exercises regularly were at a decreased risk of developing osteoarthritis in later life. Regular exercising in childhood helps to build up and strengthen the joint cartilage. The research conducted has shown that exercise increases joint cartilage by 7-15% in boys and 4-10% in girls as compared to the children who are less active. Researchers believe that this building of cartilage through exercise may carry over into adulthood, thereby making the knee and other joints less prone to osteoarthritis.

Hence, these studies support the need of encouraging children to indulge in vigorous exercises for optimum joint development. But there is a catch in it; in order to build bone, muscle, and cartilage to prevent later osteoarthritis, children fare best with weight-bearing activities. Weight bearing exercises include walking, jogging, skipping, dancing, climbing stairs, aerobic dancing, skating, racquet sports such as tennis or racquetball, team sports such as soccer, basketball, field hockey, volleyball and softball or baseball, gym-based weight training.

However, these exercises increase the risk of injury (to the knees, ankles, wrists and other joints) in children. Hence, it is essential to ensure that children adopt certain safety measures while doing these exercises to prevent injury.

These include:

  • If exercising for the first time, do it for 10-15 minutes and then gradually increase the duration over 1-2 weeks.
  • Always warm up for 10 minutes (by gently stretching your body) before you start exercising. • At the gym, a 10 minute cardiovascular exercise before using any equipment id recommended.
  • To begin with exercise under the supervision of an instructor or coach, so that you may learn the techniques properly.
  • While using weights, pick the lighter ones and build up gradually.
  • Do not overstress yourself.
  • Avoid jerky movements during exercise.
  • Wear comfortable and well-cushioned shoes while exercising.
  • If using resistance machines or free weights, work different parts of the body on different days. This not only allows muscle groups to recover, but reduces the risk of injury.
  • Check gear to ensure it fits properly and is in good shape. This includes bicycles as well as protective pads, helmets, and other athletic equipments

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