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Can walking cause arthritis?

Q) I'm 44, and due to some depression last year I started walking everywhere. Has any research been done – and if so what are the results – of people who have walked most of their life and do they develop arthritis and suffer in old age, more so than people who've never walked? Does walking cause arthritis in itself? I've been diagnosed with osteopenia due to one of the epilepsy drugs I've taken for 37 years, and have to take vitamin D and calcium supplements to aid the bone strength. Do you think I'm aiding the bones now anyway by walking everywhere? I'm not worrying about old age – just curious to know if walking in earlier years makes arthritis worse. It won't stop me walking everywhere whatever the results – because I'm hooked on it now and do about 44 miles a week.
Amanda, West London (Autumn 2010)

A) That's certainly a good number of miles to walk on a weekly basis. The link between sport, running and arthritis has been investigated extensively. I'm not sure that this has been done for people who only walk but I would think the situation is comparable. In short (because I could use this whole page to answer your question) there's no evidence that moderate exercise harms the joints. Indeed there's evidence that it's good for the joints, muscles and bones. And, of course, it's also good for the heart and lungs. Only if the joints are injured, such as with football players, does the association between exercise and damage become apparent. So, my advice is to carry on walking.

This answer was provided by Dr Philip Helliwell for the Autumn 2010 edition of our magazine, Arthritis Today, and was correct at the time of publication.

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