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Don’t let ‘bad’ knees stop you from getting fit

To someone with achy knees from a disabling illness or injury, the notion that exercise will make him or her feel and work better might seem far-fetched.

But that’s exactly what doctors recommend for the millions of Americans who suffer from pain and stiffness in the knee—the body’s biggest joint and one that carries nearly half our weight.

Research shows that exercise helps maintain joint flexibility, strength and muscle mass—not to mention the ways it benefits your heart, helps prevent osteoporosis and increases your energy level.

What’s more, exercise doesn’t have to be a bone-jarring affair. Low-impact exercises can be highly beneficial for many women with “bad” knees, and the best part is that anyone can do them.

Walk, don’t run

Many doctors consider walking to be the perfect exercise for achy knees. Brisk walking provides an excellent cardiovascular workout—it increases heart and lung capacity, burns calories, builds strong bones, strengthens major muscles in the thighs and legs and improves your mood.

And walking is free. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and some comfortable clothing. You can easily tailor walking distance and terrain to suit your needs, you can walk almost any time of day and you don’t need special equipment or training—after all, you’ve done it all your life!

Take a spin

Bicycling at a smooth, easy to moderate pace is a healthy, low-impact alternative to walking. You can enjoy cycling several ways: by riding around your neighborhood, investing in a stationary bike for at-home workouts or hopping aboard a stationary bike at the gym.

In addition to helping relieve knee pain, bicycling benefits your heart and helps control your weight. An hour of casual outdoor biking, for example, burns 170 to 500 calories, depending on your speed and terrain; for stationary bikes, around 100 to 250 calories. Of course, as you build endurance, the number of calories burned also increases.

Get in the swim

For fitness and fun, nothing beats the pool. You can perform almost any land exercise in water and get the same results, including pain relief, better balance and heart health.

The natural buoyancy of the water gives you a built-in cushion that protects sore joints from too much stress. At the same time, water provides resistance, so muscles get stronger from “pushing” against it.

Ask your doctor if water exercise is right for you. If so, consider enrolling in a water workout class. Typical exercises you’ll find in these programs include:

  • Walking. Instructors call out various speeds and strides as you walk forward, backwards and sideways in the water.
  • Running. Using a buoyancy device, your upper body floats while you “run” in the water without your feet touching the pool bottom. As an alternative, you can run in place without the device, or even run “laps.”
  • Aerobics. Routines are similar to the land version, complete with music, but at a slower, easier pace for a full-body workout.
  • Flexibility training. Stretching and range-of-motion exercises are easier because the water supports your weight and keeps you steady.

Getting started

Start off any exercise program by following these tips:

  • Advise your doctor first. Get a physical exam if needed before you begin.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes in layers. If you get too warm, remove a layer.
  • Drink water before, during and after your workout to stay hydrated. Carry a water bottle with you.
  • Warm up beforehand with simple motions like shoulder shrugs, arm raises or marching in place. Stretch only after warm-ups to avoid muscle pulls.
  • Build to 30 minutes of exercise on as many days as possible.