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Arthritis: Get moving, lose that weight

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Age, injury, obesity and genetics all play a role in the development of osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis develops over time as wear and tear on the body's joints grind away the cartilage, the tissue lining the joint. That damage can lead to pain and eventually to disability. There's no way to reverse the damage already done to aging joints. But researchers believe that people can take steps to reduce the risk or delay the development of this disease of old age.

Here's what to do:

*Lose weight. Each added pound puts pressure on the body's joints and increases the wear on the cartilage. Losing as little as 11 pounds can cut the risk of osteoarthritis of the knee by 50%. And new research suggests that people who already have arthritis might get some pain relief by shedding extra weight.

*Get out and move. Research shows that regular exercise helps keep joints in shape as people age. To get the most out of the body's joints, experts recommend spending 30 minutes a day at activities that boost fitness and flexibility. Weight training can also strengthen muscles that stabilize and protect joints from injury.

*Play smarter. People who have suffered a joint injury in the past, often from playing sports such as soccer, are at increased risk of developing osteoarthritis as they get older. That means weekend warriors shouldn't go out and overdo an activity they haven't done in years. Experts warn that high-impact activities such as jogging can put extra pressure on already damaged joints. They recommend walking or swimming, which are both low-impact and less likely to trigger further injury.

*Eat a low-fat, healthy diet. Such a diet helps maintain ideal body weight, and there's some evidence that nutrients such as vitamin C, found in fruits and vegetables, can help ward off this disease, which afflicts 21 million Americans.

Sources: John Klippel, president of the Arthritis Foundation, and David Felson, an arthritis expert at Boston University

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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