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Reported September 27, 2011

Exercise could ease Arthritis even without Weight Loss

(Ivanhoe Newswire) – Adding another perk to the list of why exercising is beneficial, scientists found that physical activity improves arthritis symptoms even when remaining on a high-fat diet.

The insight suggests that excess weight alone isn't what causes the aches and pains of osteoarthritis, despite the long-held notion that carrying extra pounds strains the joints and leads to the inflammatory condition.

"What's surprising is that exercise, without substantial weight loss, can be beneficial to the joints," Farshid Guilak, Ph.D., professor of orthopaedic surgery at Duke and senior author of the study, was quoted as saying. "Ideally, it would be best to be fit and lose a little weight, but this shows that exercise alone can improve the health of your joints."

Many cases of arthritis are associated with obesity and inactivity, so the Duke researchers set out to determine whether a high fat diet induces knee osteoarthritis, and then whether exercise provides a protective effect.

Using two sets of male mice – half fed a high-fat diet and the other fed regular chow – the researchers noted significant differences among the two groups. The mice on the high-fat food gained weight rapidly, processed glucose poorly and had much higher blood levels of molecules that trigger the chronic inflammation associated with osteoarthritis.

When these animals got regular running wheel workouts, many of the harmful effects diminished – even though the mice ate the same high-fat food and shed no weight. Glucose tolerance improved, while the inflammatory response was disrupted among key signaling molecules called cytokines, easing the development of arthritis.

If the extra weight on the joints had been the cause of the arthritis, the researchers noted, exercise would have exacerbated the problem. Instead, it helped.

"We're trying to understand the interaction of physical activity and obesity," Timothy M. Griffin, Ph.D., lead author of the study. Griffin was formerly at Duke and is now at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, was quoted as saying. "Even though there was the same amount of body fat, the fat was different."

Griffin said the fat cells still produced inflammatory molecules associated with arthritis, but they lost their punch because they could not organize into a force. "I don't want to say exercise is turning off that inflammatory signal, it just impairs it," he said.

The findings add to a growing body of research exploring fitness vs. fatness. Ongoing studies at Duke and elsewhere are examining the role of diet, exercise and inflammatory diseases. The study is now being done on humans.

SOURCE: Arthritis & Rheumatism, published online September 27, 2011

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