FRIDAY, May 4, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- Golfers with knee arthritis should park the golf cart and walk the links instead, researchers say.
While using a golf cart may seem the obvious choice for golfers with knee problems, a new small study finds that walking provides much greater health benefits. Moreover, it's not associated with increased pain, inflammation or cartilage breakdown, the researchers said.
"Individuals with knee osteoarthritis are often concerned about pain and may be more likely to use a golf cart," said lead study author Dr. Prakash Jayabalan. He's an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
However, "this study has shown that golfers with knee osteoarthritis do not need to be concerned about worsening their disease through walking the course. In fact, walking provides the best health benefit," Jayabalan said in a university news release.
More than 17 million Americans older than 50 golf regularly. Knee osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disability in this age group. The condition causes swelling, pain and difficulty moving the joint.
The study included 10 older golfers with knee osteoarthritis and five without the disease, which is usually caused by wear and tear of the joint.
On one day, the study participants played one round of golf (18 holes) walking the course. On another day, they used a golf cart to play 18 holes. On each occasion, the researchers monitored the participants' heart rates to determine their level of exercise intensity, and took blood samples to measure markers of knee inflammation and cartilage stress.
On both occasions, the golfers had an increase in these markers, but there was no difference between use of the golf cart and walking, the findings showed.
When walking the course, the heart rates of the golfers with knee problems were in the moderate-intensity zone for more than 60 percent of the time, compared with 30 percent when using a cart.
But even using the cart, golfers met daily exercise recommendations, according to the study authors.
"Bottom line: walking the course is significantly better than using a golf cart, but using a golf cart is still better than not exercising at all," Jayabalan concluded.
The study was presented recently at the Osteoarthritis Research Society International annual meeting in Liverpool, England. Research presented at meetings is usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The Arthritis Foundation has more about osteoarthritis.