If you don't use it, you'll lose it. I bet I've heard and repeated this age-old aphorism a million times. But can it be over-used?

The adage about using it certainly fits when trying to enhance wellness for all sorts of medical systems: working the brain with puzzles and conversation helps ward off memory loss; walking fast enough to cause one to huff and puff, keeps the heart and lungs strong; regular sexual activity helps prevent impotence; filling the gut with a high fiber diet keeps the bowels in shape and makes you a regular sort-a-guy.

But what can you do when it hurts to move those old joints? Should you rest or should you exercise a joint with degenerative osteoarthritis? Experts say this depends on the state of that arthritis. If it is a hot and inflamed joint, it's better to address it first with expert advice, medication and time and not to force a lot of movement until later when it is cooled down. If, however, it is the cool-yet-stiff type of arthritis, then that’s a different story.

I always go back to a famous study that involved older people with very bad osteoarthritic knees, the kind that the orthopedic surgeon would call bone-on-bone. Scientists divided these arthritic patients into two groups. The first group continued their sedentary habits and the second group was pushed to regularly walk, stretch, and move on those worn out knees. Which group do you think did better? You guessed it, the members of the exercise group rated themselves to be in less overall pain, were better able to stay mobile and considered themselves happier in general than the sedentary group. One physician friend advised me once that, “Motion is the lotion for keeping those stiff joints moving.”

The American College of Rheumatology gives us the following recommendations:

• Though some of the joint changes of osteoarthritis are irreversible and sometimes surgery is required to get a severely arthritic person moving again, most patients will not need joint replacement surgery;

• Keep in mind that symptoms of osteoarthritis can vary greatly among those affected;

• Exercise is an important part of what we do to decrease joint pain and increase function.

So, say it again to yourself every morning while looking at the person in that mirror: "Use it or lose it."

Richard P. Holm, MD is founder of The Prairie Doc® and author of “Life’s Final Season, A Guide for Aging and Dying with Grace” available on Amazon. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.


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