Today, very few people walk well, which is particularly true of the elderly and obese. Sit on a park bench and watch the world and his wife walk by and you’ll see how very badly they do it. You’ll see hobblers, waddlers, mincers and strutters, but very few people who walk with elegance and grace. This is not surprising, for human gait is basically an unstable affair. Every time we take a take a step forward we have to perform the difficult task of balancing a ganging body of five feet or more on a shifting base which at times is no larger that a milk bottle top. Ideally the legs should swing easily from the hips, in a direct line with the direction of travel. But this elegant, narrow gauge way of walking can never be achieved by anyone who carries excess weight. They can’t balance on one leg while they swing the other forward, so they’re forced to rock and roll from side to make sure they’ve always got a solid base. For safety’s sake, they mimic the ungainly nautical roll of a sailor on a tossing ship, just as women do in the later stages of their pregnancies. People who put on weight don’t walk, they waddle driveway bollard lights.
Ergonomic studies show that a force of nearly three to six times body weight is imposed on each knee during walking. This means that a person who is just a stone overweight subjects their knees to an extra loading of sixty or more pounds with every step they take, which in time renders them prone to arthritic change because of the imperfect way their knees are used. Surveys show that if people are divided by weight into five categories, those in the heaviest group have ten times the risk of developing arthritis of their knees as those in the lightest group. This makes them prime candidates for knee replacement operations, which now take place in Britain at the rate of 77,500 a year. The same applies in America, where researchers at Harvard University have found that the percentages of cases of arthritis attributable to obesity has increased six-fold during the thirty year period from 1971-2002. That’s the bad news. The good news, revealed in a recent American survey, is that if the prevalence of obesity among 50-84 year-olds could be returned to the level it was ten years ago, a total of well over 100,000 knee replacement operations would be saved. As a study carried out at the Boston University Arthritic Centre showed, women who shed just 11 lb of excess weight halve their risk of developing knee arthritis over the next ten years. Arthritic pain and stiffness in the knees is common, afflicting six out of every ten women in Britain over the age of fifty, but it’s not obligatory.
Obesity increases the risk of premature death, from diseases like heart attacks, strokes and cancer. But an even greater tragedy, numerically, is that it also impairs the quality of life of countless senior citizens, whose declining years are wracked with needless invalidism and pain. For them the great misfortune is not an early demise, but what dies within them while they still live. This fate is often self-inflicted, as was shown in the case of William Banting, the English undertaker who in 1863 wrote the world’s first slimming booklet Letter on Corpulence. He weighed 202lbs by the time he was 65 and was compelled to go backwards down stairs to avoid the jarring of his knees and ankles. Once he’d shed 46 lbs he was able to come down the stairs naturally with perfect ease. That remedy is available to all, so there’s no reason to shelter behind the old excuse that osteoarthritis is due to ‘fair wear and tear’. That fallacy is dismissed in the blog I posted on this site a few months ago which you read by asking any search engine to find ‘Obesity: It’s a Dog’s Life and a Major Cause of Nobbly Knees.’