Smooth Moves

How to Keep Your Joints Healthy at Every Age

Most people don’t even think about their joints until they start to hurt, and by then, it is often too late to reverse the damage that is causing their pain. But when it comes to joint health, prevention really is the best medicine, and if we take steps to safeguard our joints at an early age, we can stave off some of the joint discomfort that comes with getting older. This is generally known as arthritis - a blanket term for joint disease – and it is mistakenly thought to be only an older person’s problem. However, beginning around the age of 30, we begin to lose bone density and muscle mass, which decreases the stability of joints and causes strain and pain. The connective tissue that makes up our tendons and ligaments gets stiffer. And all of this is exacerbated by the many less-than-optimal life choices we make every day. Here are eight tips to keep your joints moving smoothly for your entire lifetime.

1. Quit Smoking

Smoking causes systemic inflammation and decreases your body’s ability to deliver oxygenated blood to your bones and muscles. This causes degeneration, increases pain and makes it harder to recover from hard workouts and injuries. Smoking can also increase the symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and can cause the arthritis to spread and inflame other parts of your body.

2. Hydrate!

Water is important for so many reasons, one of which is the lubrication of your joints. Cartilage – the flexible, connective tissue that cushions your joints – is made of mostly water. So is the synovial fluid within your joints that keeps them moving smoothly. If you’re not well-hydrated, the body pulls that water to keep other parts of your body hydrated, which can wreak havoc on your joints. Try to drink one-half to two-thirds your bodyweight in ounces of water per day; if you weigh 150 pounds, aim for 75 to 100 ounces per day.

3. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Carrying extra weight puts extra stress on your weight-bearing joints; specifically, the hips, knees and ankles. Being overweight has an adverse effect on balance, muscle strength and gait, and every extra pound you carry adds four pounds of stress to your knees with each step you take. So, if you’re just 10 pounds overweight, your knees are feeling 40 extra pounds of stress while walking on flat ground, and that stress increases two to three times if you are walking up and down stairs or up or downhill. Conversely, being underweight isn’t good, either. You will lack the muscle mass necessary to keep your joints strong and stable.

4. Exercise!

A sedentary lifestyle leads to stiff joints. So does sitting for a long period at a desk, or while binge-watching your favorite television series, or while driving in a car. To ward off joint stiffness and pain from too much time in one position, move as much as possible, whether it’s with a simple walk around the block or a through a consistent exercise program. Exercises like walking, cycling and swimming keep you fit and keep your joints healthy by increasing blood flow and range of motion without putting too much strain on them.

5. Do Resistance Training

Lifting weights increases muscle mass and bone density, which naturally helps the body support and protect the joints. It can also ease pain and stiffness and prevent swelling. Even older adults with arthritis pain can benefit from a weight-training program, which increases their functional strength and improves their quality of life by enabling them to perform more basic tasks with ease. And the exercise doesn’t have to be intense; even moderate exercise can help alleviate joint pain and stiffness.

6.Pay Attention to Mobility and Flexibility

Mobility refers to a joint’s ability to move actively through its full range of motion without pain or discomfort, while flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle or muscle group to passively lengthen fully. However, because muscles support and stabilize joints, both mobility and flexibility are necessary for joint health. To increase mobility, focus on dynamic stretches – controlled movements like leg swings, cat and cow spinal stretches and hip circles - to improve range of motion. To improve flexibility, focus on static stretches, which are held in a single position for longer periods of time. Think touching your toes, a butterfly stretch or downward-facing dog.

7. Warm Up and Cool Down Before and After Workouts

Preparing joints to put in work is essential to keeping them healthy. Before a workout, spend some time using the muscles you’ll be using during your exercise, but at a slower, easier pace to to get them ready for harder work. Think “walk before you run.” Also, incorporate dynamic stretching moves like arm circles and leg pendulums to increase mobility in the joints. After your workout, ease your joints back from that high level of effort back to a resting state, once again with slower movement and stretching, this time static.

8. Eat for Joint Health

A diet high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and naturally anti-inflammatory foods can support overall joint health. Think berries, dark, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts and fatty fish like salmon. If you think your diet is lacking, consider a fish oil supplement or a joint health formula with ingredients like glucosamine, chondroitin and turmeric, all of which are proven to support the function of healthy joint tissue.