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ImagePeople with knee osteoarthritis are more likely to walk fast enough if they lead physically active lives, a new Northwestern Medicine research has shown.

"The more active people are, the faster they can walk," said Dorothy Dunlop, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

"This is strong evidence that even a small increase in activity is related to better walking function. The bar for improvement isn't that high. This should motivate people to get moving, even if they have pain or stiffness."

Federal guidelines recommend adults with arthritis should participate in at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate intensity, low-impact activity in sessions lasting 10 minutes or more. Even if people can't meet these levels, Dunlop said they should be as physically active as possible.

The Osteoarthritis Initiative, an observational study, surveyed 2,500 participants with knee osteoarthritis. Participants filled out self-reported questionnaires about their physical activity at sites in Columbus, Ohio, Baltimore, Md., Providence, R.I., and Pittsburgh, Pa.

Researchers divided participants into four physical activity groups, from lowest to highest, using a general activity score. In the lowest physical activity group, less than half, or 49 per cent, walked fast enough to cross the street before the light changed. (Traffic lights generally allow a walking speed of four feet per second.) In the next three higher physical activity groups, 63 per cent, 71 per cent and 81 per cent, respectively, walked fast enough to cross the street.

The study has been published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism .

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