As we age, our bodies can’t always keep up with the lifestyle we’ve often taken for granted over the years, but a little daily maintenance can go a long way toward having healthy and strong joints well into our golden years.
To help you get started, we’ve assembled some of our top tips for reducing joint pain and the effects of aging-related wear on your joints.
Understand Your Body
A healthy joint combines two bones in your body with a cushion of what’s called synovial fluid and some cartilage, both held in place by synovial membranes and ligaments. An unhealthy joint weathered by years of usage, on the other hand, experiences an absence of that synovial fluid, along with a deterioration and erosion of the cartilage, and the end result is bone-to-bone contact.
The forces that wage war on your body can be as innocent as the normal wear and tear of getting older, or they can be severe injuries sustained in your past or maybe the stress of carrying around too much weight. Whatever the case might be, it all leads to reactions in your joints that inflict damage on your cartilage and lead you on a path toward arthritis.
To protect your joints against this quiet assault and properly care for them as the years add up, it’s best to remain physically active and pay attention to any signs of pain or swelling.
Don’t ‘Weight’ Until It’s Too Late
As difficult as it can sometimes be, keeping your weight within a healthy range is one of the very best things you can do for your joints, because being overweight magnifies the normal wear and tear, thereby speeding up problems in your weight-bearing joints. Research has shown that for every pound gained, four times that amount of stress is exerted on your knees.
To see where you currently stand in regard to your weight, start by calculating your body’s percentage of fat based on a simple formula using your height and weight called the body mass index – click to view a BMI chart. BMI is measured by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703 and then dividing that by your height in inches squared.
A normal BMI equates to a result between 18.5 and 24.9. That means that for the average American male, who stands 5 feet, 9.5 inches tall, his BMI would need to fall between 128 pounds and about 172 pounds in order to be considered healthy and normal. The average American female, at 5 feet, 4 inches tall, has a normal BMI from 110 pounds to about 146 pounds. At a BMI of 30, an adult is considered obese.
What Do I Do About It?
There are a couple important tasks you can perform to take care of your joints, and the first is simply to do something. Get up and get moving, because limited movement correlates to more joint stiffness. A good choice to begin with is light, low-impact exercise that won’t give your joints a pounding that you’d regret the next morning. Think swimming, biking, walking, or spending a little time on an elliptical.
And if you think that even a little exercise is going to make you pay later, consider this: Aerobic exercise is critical for heart health and actually increases the release of endorphins in your blood stream that reduce pain in your spine and joints. It may take some time for your muscles to adjust to a new routine as well, but it’s worth every bit. The aging process naturally saps your muscle mass and drains your strength. Therefore a little weight lifting can rebuild those muscles, which can then better stabilize and protect your joints and even create stronger bones.
Your light weight training can include either the use of free weights or lifting machines. When you work out, pay particular attention to strengthening your back, your abdominal muscles, and the muscles that support your lower back, which are also known as your core. Stronger abs and back muscles help you reduce spinal pain, improve balance, and help prevent falls.
Don’t Go Overboard
While a positive attitude and can-do spirit will do wonders for your joints, please don’t throw caution to the wind. Know your limits and pay attention to potential warning signs as you exercise.
First, avoid any exercises that cause joint pain. Any soreness that lasts longer than 48 hours means you need to take it easier next time you work out. That pain may be telling you that you’ve overstressed your joints, muscles, or tendons, and working through it may lead to injury or damage. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need help from a trainer or physical therapist regarding your lifting technique.
Next, as you exercise, work on perfecting your posture to protect your muscles and joints and avoid unnecessary injuries. When lifting from the floor, keep your back straight and bend at your knees. This allows you to use the stronger leg muscles to perform the lift, which reduces the stress on the discs and smaller spinal muscles of your back.
Lastly, if you do experience a little discomfort after physical activity, icing helps reduce joint swelling and pain. So for a sore joint, apply ice wrapped in a towel or use a cold pack on the painful area for no more than 20 minutes, and do that three to four times per day.
Work It Inside Your Body Too
To combat the onset of osteoporosis, blend your exercise with a proper diet, starting with foods high in calcium like milk, yogurt, broccoli, kale, and figs. A healthy diet also includes plenty of protein in lower-fat sources like chicken, fish, or low fat cottage cheese. There’s also some evidence that Omega-3 fatty acids promote healthy joints and reduce joint pain and swelling in people with arthritis. For that reason, try salmon, which is rich in calcium and is also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
If you’re concerned about getting enough calcium or Omega-3s through what you eat, doctors recommend calcium supplements, extra Vitamin D, and fish oil capsules. Other high-quality supplements can also deliver great benefits for your joints, including 1,500 mg per day of glucosamine sulfate and 1,200 mg per day of chondroitin sulfate. Try them for two to four months and see how you feel as a result.