Most people know that exercising can benefit weight loss. But what if you can’t? How can you lose weight with something like bad knees?
Bad knees can be the result of a wide variety of causes. They might be genetic, you might be injured, inflammation, or your knees might be under pressure from weight gain.
In any case it is possible to lose weight with bad knees by focusing on other areas of losing weight besides exercise. In many cases these better habits and less weight reduce symptoms associated with bad knees.
How does weight loss work?
To do everything you do, you need energy. This energy comes from the food you eat and it is measured in calories. If a certain food contains a lot of calories that means it contains a lot of energy.
If you absorb more energy from your food than you use you have an excess of calories in your body. In prehistoric times it could be hard to find energy-dense food all year around. That’s probably the reason your body has the ability to store this excess energy for later use.
One of the ways your body stores this excess energy is in the form of body fat. The problem is that too much body fat becomes harmful for your health.
Luckily you can get rid of this body fat again. When you absorb fewer calories from food than you eat, your body starts using stored energy as fuel. This is also known as a calorie deficit. If you do this long enough you will slowly but surely get rid of excess body fat.
Exercise is just one way to move the energy balance towards a calorie deficit. There are other ways you can do this too. That means that you can also lose weight with bad knees even if you can’t work out.
4 ways you can lose weight with knee pain
Weight loss basically happens when you absorb fewer calories from food than you use daily. From a high level view there are 4 main ways you can tip the energy balance.
1. Consume less calories
The most popular and straightforward method people use to lose weight is consuming fewer calories. The fewer calories you eat the fewer are able to get into your actual body.
Depending on what your diet looks like right now this can be a good or a bad idea. If you are eating a lot of processed foods with a lot of sugar it is smart to reduce the amount you eat of those foods. They don’t fill you up that much and don’t have a lot of extremely important nutrients.
On the other hand, if you already don’t eat that much and you eat healthily, you most likely don’t want to eat even less. In that case, you will want to focus on the other ways to lose weight.
Consuming less calories can be done both by people with good knees and bad knees.
2. Permanently burn more calories
The next way you can lose weight with knee pain is by permanently making your body burn more calories. Permanently in this context mainly means making certain habits part of your daily life that help you burn more calories.
A classic example is drinking more water. The exact number of extra calories burned will inevitably vary but an estimation is that you can burn an extra 24 calories by drinking 500ml of water. Doing this once does not make a big difference. If you do this again and again every day that becomes a different story.
Do keep in mind that drinking too much water isn’t good either.
Another example is building muscle. This one is not something you have to do daily to see great results. An important factor of how many calories you burn a day is how much you weigh.
By building muscle you add healthy weight that helps you burn more calories day in day out. Even if you have bad knees you can grow your upper body muscles.
3. Temporarily burning more calories
This third method to lose weight comes down to moving more intensely for longer periods of time. Basically working out. This burns calories right now but once you stop the calorie burning stops too.
Some other workouts that are relatively soft on your knees are rowing, cycling, walking and the elliptical trainer. By choosing the right workouts you can still exercise with bad knees.
4. Absorbing fewer calories from food
Not every calorie you eat gets absorbed into your actual body. A nutrient like for example fiber has a caloric value but the energy from fiber doesn’t get absorbed entirely into your body.
Another example is that the calories in nuts, like almonds, are not all absorbed (1).
Will your knees stop hurting if you lose weight?
Whether your knees will stop hurting the more weight you lose depends on the reason for your knee pain and how much weight you have to lose.
If you approach weight loss as trying to become healthier chances become bigger. Losing weight this way reduces inflammation in your body. Excess inflammation can be a reason your knees are hurting.
Losing weight also simply reduces the amount of pressure your knees undergo each day.
How long will it take to lose weight?
How long it takes to notice weight loss depends on a lot of different factors but there is a general way to think about weight loss.
One pound of body fat contains around 3500 calories (one kilogram 8000 calories). Depending on how big your calorie deficit is you can expect faster or slower results.
What is a healthy weight loss rate?
The answer to how fast you should lose weight is not often “as fast as possible”. If you lose weight too fast you can slow down your metabolism, the amount of calories you burn each day.
In general a healthy weight loss rate is a daily calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories depending on how much weight you have to lose.
Calorie burning with knee-friendly workouts
It’s a common misconception that people with bad knees can’t burn a lot of calories with exercise. Depending on how bad your knees are there are still a lot of workouts you can do.
Here are some estimations of calories burned with knee-friendly workouts for a 155-pound person doing the exercises for 30 minutes (2).
- Water Aerobics: 149 calories
- Stretching (Hatha Yoga): 186 calories
- Walking (4.5 mph): 186 calories
- Stair Step Machine (general): 223 calories
- Rowing, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Bicycling, Stationary (moderate): 260 calories
- Swimming (backstroke): 298 calories
- Elliptical Trainer (general): 335 calories
- Swimming (breaststroke): 372 calories
- Swimming (butterfly/crawl): 409 calories
Keep in mind that these numbers are an estimation. You can’t rely on them being the exact same for you. The more intense and the longer you do your exercise, the more calories you will burn.
As you can see some of the workouts that burn the most amount of calories are also suitable for people with bad knees.
Once you know that something simple like a medium chocolate chip cookie is 148 calories you also understand that it’s hard to outexercise a bad diet.
Exercises not to do with bad knees
By now you can most likely imagine what exercises are not good to do with bad knees. Nonetheless, here are some examples of workouts to avoid:
- Jumping rope
- Lunges and squats
Losing weight with bad or injured knees is certainly possible altough it might require smarter choices than usual.