PUMPING IRONY: How Much Is Too Much — or Too Little?

A new study says too much — or too little — physical activity can mess up your knees. But how do you define an “optimal” level of exercise?

A guy goes to see his doctor because his knee is hurting. He flexes his aching joint and tells the doc, “It hurts when I do this.” The doctor looks him over and replies, “So don’t do that.”

It’s an old joke, but it came back to me the other day when I heard about a new study suggesting that the best way to prevent osteoarthritis in your knees is to avoid too much — or too little — physical activity. Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) followed a couple hundred patients between the ages of 45 and 60 over the course of four years and found that the couch potatoes among them were just as likely to suffer from osteoarthritis as the marathon runners.

“This suggests,” said lead researcher Thomas Link, MD, “that there may be an optimal level of physical activity to preserve the cartilage.”

Um . . . thanks, doc.

Just what that “optimal” level of activity might be, of course, probably depends on the individual. For some that might mean swimming, or bicycling rather than running stadium stairs three times a week. For others, we may be talking about a walk around the block. In fact, I don’t know if I could pinpoint what my optimal level of activity would be. I’m not sure from one day to the next whether I’m being too hard or too easy on my creaky knees. All I know is when they start to hurt, I take it easy.

Not sure I need a doctor — or a whole study — to tell me that.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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