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Whether it is in the water or in the gym, resistance exercise helps build strength and increases mobility in osteoarthritis (OA) patients. In a study of 100 people with OA of the knee or hip, researchers looked at the effects of a 6-week hydrotherapy (waterbased) or routine gym exercise program versus no exercise at all. The results were published recently in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease.
In the study, the participants worked out 3 times a week either in a pool or in a gym. Both exercise regimens concentrated on resistance exercise designed to build muscle strength around the affected joint. The results showed that both exercise programs provided important benefits in improving physical function. For example, walking speed and distance improved dramatically in both groups, compared with nonexercisers.
In terms of building muscle strength, the gym group showed major improvement in thigh muscle strength in both legs; however, the hydrotherapy group had improved strength in only 1 leg. Yet, the researchers found that hydrotherapy ups cardiovascular fitness and allows people with OA to exercise to a greater degree of intensity without the harm that they would experience with a gym-based program. This advantage may be especially crucial for people with severe forms of OA.