WEIGHT LOSS AND YOUR JOINTS

Weight loss has been on our minds a lot lately. A good friend recently opted for bariatric surgery, and we also know someone who lost over 150 pounds to become a fairly competitive marathoner in his age group.

And okay, yes, we’ll confess to a borderline obsession with The Biggest Loser, which just started its twelfth season.

But we digress. The point is, we’ve begun thinking about weight not so much in terms of losing weight or maintaining it, but rather, in terms of activity management: The more you can stay active, the healthier you’ll be.

Part of this is our own focus on making sure people stay active as long as they can. The thing is, your joints notice a difference in weight change, too. In fact, joint health is a good reason to manage your weight in the first place. “I see a lot of people who need knee replacements that are told by their doctors that they can’t get one, because the weight will still be there,” says Dr. Daniela Walsh, our resident physical therapist. “And, a lot of people are reminded that they need to lose weight because their joints hurt.” Because the joint and cartilage surrounding it are primary weight-bearing structures in your lower body, losing weight can make your joints feel a lot better.

But you need to take care while you’re losing weight. A high-impact sport like running, while by far the most efficient way to burn calories, is also the one that can place massive amounts of stress on your knees. “Multiply your body weight times five to understand the force that goes through your joints when you’re running,” says Dr. Walsh. “Every pound is equal to five, so it does take a toll.”

Dr. Walsh recommends starting with a lower-impact activity, like walking, swimming, or bicycling, and she also recommends breaking your exercise up into chunks over the day. “So you might not feel ready to walk for an hour straight, but you can walk fifteen minutes, four times a day,” she says.

Your joints do take the brunt of the weight, but don’t forget about your surrounding tendons, too. “Remember, a tendon’s job is to slow down or control a limb. And if that limb is heavier than it has to be, then the tendon is doing twice as much work,” Dr. Walsh says. So losing weight will help your entire body to be healthier, which, in the end, is what we want to hear from you.

One of Dr. Walsh’s other tricks for managing your activity is paying attention to your heart rate. “Aerobic exercise is the best way to lose weight,” she says, “and that means getting your heart rate into the aerobic zone.” She offers a universal formula for determining that zone:

220-your age x 70 or 80 percent=aerobic zone

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Here are some of Dr. Walsh’s other tips for weight loss and activity management:

  • Calories in, Calories out: for weight loss, you need to be outputting more energy than you’re intaking.
  • Start slow: if you’re just beginning your activity management, go out for five minutes and come back. That’s ten minutes right there.
  • Get your heart rate above 140, in the aerobic zone, for half an hour a day, once you have a routine down.
  • If you’re just ten pounds overweight, you can probably start by jogging. Otherwise, start with another good aerobic activity like swimming or biking.

As always, take care of your knees and ankles. Even if you’re following a regimen of low-impact activities, wearing an athletic knee brace or an athletic ankle brace can help manage any pain you might feel. Of course, make sure you consult your physical therapist or physician before you embark on any sort of weight loss or exercise.

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