DEAR DR. ROACH: I am a 60-year-old female who is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and weighs 180 pounds. For the past 10 years, I have not exercised because of arthritis in the knees. I have owned a stationary bicycle for years. Now I regularly use this machine. It does not cause pain in my knees. Since the machine causes you to push and pull against your body weight, is this exercise sufficient for recommended daily exercise? Can this be considered strength training? Should I make myself walk and lift weights? — R.
ANSWER: I have believed through my career that exercise is critical for maintaining good health, for preventing disease and even for treating some medical conditions. The medical literature increasingly supports this view. So I am delighted to hear that you have found a kind of exercise that you can do without pain and that, most importantly, you are doing.
Any (safe) exercise is better than no exercise, from the standpoint of your heart and overall health. You often will hear the advice “at least 20 minutes a day of moderate intensity, at least three times per week,” which is well enough, but that amount isn’t possible for some people, especially when starting out, and is less than the optimal amount for most people.
I think you will find that the bicycling exercise will make it easier to walk. Walking puts a bit more stress on your bones as well as your joints, but that stress translates into more strength and less risk of osteoporosis. The more you walk, the more you will be able to walk. Different exercises have different benefits, so changing things up may have more benefit. If you try walking and weights, you may be surprised how easy it is after a few times and how much better you feel.