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Baby-Boomers, Obesity and Arthritis

The Achy Generation: Baby-Boomers, Obesity and Arthritis

September 15, 2005   By: Laurie Edwards for Knee1 It actually makes a lot of sense: People who carry extra weight are more at risk for developing osteoarthritis. Baby-boomers make up a large portion of the soaring population of obese and overweight people in this country. Is it any surprise, then, that experts are concerned by the rate of obesity-related arthritis growth for baby boomers? So what’s an overweight baby-boomer to do to protect those knees, hips and other joints? Incorporating more exercise into their daily routines and making smarter food choices are the best way to try and prevent arthritis or minimize its symptoms.
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Tips to help save your joints:

Don’t be afraid to move! In fact, about 17 percent of gym-goers are over age 55; in 2004, this number stood for 10.2 million health club members.

Falls and associated hip fractures are major causes of disability and death in the elderly.

Many gyms offer senior classes, or those that are low-impact and good for weight-bearing joints. Even better, these classes are often offered during off-peak hours when gyms are less crowded. Always consult with your physician first, but check out your local gyms and health clubs to see what programs they may offer for your needs.

You are what you eat – for a healthy immune system and strong joints, cut down on fats and acids and stock up on fresh fruits, leafy greens and vegetables and protein sources such as beans.

Drink plenty of water – experts recommend drinking half your weight in ounces. If you weigh 150 lbs, that’s about 75 oz of water.

Osteoarthritis –also called wear and tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease - is the most common form of arthritis, affecting knees, hips and other weight-bearing joints. Over time, it causes joint cartilage to deteriorate, and its symptoms include pain, stiffness and limited mobility. Typically, osteoarthritis affects the elderly, who have had decades to put wear and tear on their joints. However, obesity is a major risk factor in developing the condition, and the numbers of younger people with it continue to increase – despite what we now know about the dangers of obesity. “We found that the obesity epidemic has affected both the baby-boomers and their predecessors but that the baby-boomers got a much earlier start, and have spent more of their lives in an obese state even though we’ve known that they have had better access to nutrition and information about exercise for much of their lives,” said Dr. Suzanne Leveille of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), lead author of a new study examining the connection between baby-boomers and arthritis. The study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Public Health, used national census information to find that for those born between 1946 and 1965, obesity rates grew substantially when compared to the “silent generation,” those people born between 1928 and 1945. “Baby-boomers are just approaching that age when arthritis rates begin to increase dramatically… We can expect to see the health and functional consequences of this epidemic in the coming decades,” Leveille said. The common treatment for arthritis is non-steroid or steroid anti-inflammatory medications that, while help reduce symptoms, also include undesirable side effects including weight gain, osteoporosis and hypertension. The better approach, many experts believe, is to address obesity-related arthritis from a public health standpoint and encourage people to make lifestyle changes that can help manage their joint health. For instance, reducing the amount of acid-forming foods in your diet can help keep your immune system healthy; researchers found that the overall state of the immune system is an indicator for developing arthritis. Instead, select more fresh fruits and vegetables that do not form acid in the body, and cut down on your fatty meats. Experts favor a reversal of the typical North American diet, opting for foods rich is alkaline rather than acid. Berries, bananas, beans and spinach are among the many foods that are alkaline-forming. Brightly colored vegetables and fruits also contain antioxidants, which help lower the risk of developing arthritis. Other smart food choices that cut down on acidity and immune response include reducing breads, caffeine, corn and saturated fats like butter and margarine. And of course, increase your level of regular exercise. Not only does it help with weight loss – an inevitable minimization of arthritis risk – but it increases joint health. Low-impact cardio, water exercise, yoga and strength training are the best routes, and many gyms offer classes aimed at the aging demographic of baby-boomers trying to offset the many problems extra weight and poor cardiovascular health pose.
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