The health benefits of walking have long been extolled, with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention recommending walking for exercise as a way to reduce the risk of serious health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and some cancers. 
A new study from Baylor College of Medicine, published online ahead of print by the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, confirms that among individuals aged 50 and older, walking for exercise can also reduce the frequent knee pain associated with osteoarthritis (OA).
What’s more, the researchers found, it may be an effective treatment to slow the damage OA causes in the knee joint.
“Until this finding, there has been a lack of credible treatments that provide benefit for both limiting damage and pain in osteoarthritis,” said the study first author, Grace Hsiao-Wei Lo, MD, MS, an Assistant Professor of Immunology, Allergy, and Rheumatology at Baylor and Chief of Rheumatology at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.
The researchers evaluated data on more than 1200 participants aged 50 years and older in the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a multiyear, community-based, observational study. These individuals self-reported the amount of time and frequency they walked for exercise. Participants were divided into 2 groups, walkers (n=885, or 73% of the cohort) and non-walkers (n=327, or 27% of the cohort).
The odds of new frequent knee pain, the researchers found, was 40% lower among the walkers than among the non-walkers.
“These findings are particularly useful for people who have radiographic evidence of osteoarthritis but don’t have pain every day in their knees,” said Dr. Lo. “This study supports the possibility that walking for exercise can help to prevent the onset of daily knee pain. It might also slow down the worsening of damage inside the joint from osteoarthritis.”
The study authors concluded that “walking for exercise should be encouraged for people with knee osteoarthritis,” and they further stated that the study findings “offer a proof of concept that walking for exercise could be disease modifying, which warrants further study.”
Lo GH, Vinod S, Richard MJ, et al. Association between walking for exercise and symptomatic and structural progression in individuals with knee osteoarthritis: data from the Osteoarthritis Initiative cohort. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2022 Jun 8. doi: 10.1002/art.42241. Online ahead of print.
1. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Walking. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/walking/index.htm. Accessed June 16, 2022.