Creaky knees and aching backs often come much earlier than we would like to admit. You may notice that you limp a bit after a competitive basketball game, or you may see swelling around your ankles after spending more time on your feet than normal.
These little warning signs are easy to dismiss.
Unfortunately, ignoring joint pain can mean big problems in the future. However, just a bit of prevention can mean you will keep your original joints long into your golden years. Whether you’re 28 or 82, here are 10 tips to keep your joints healthy and protected.
1. Surrender to Leg Day
To help ease joint pain, especially around the knees, build up your hamstrings and quadriceps. You can achieve this by working out the lower body by doing squats or leg curls. When you have stronger surrounding muscles, they can help support your joints and take the burden off of your knees.
2. Get Your Calcium
You’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” Think about what you drink as well. Instead of reaching for a soda that is filled with empty calories, opt for a drink that is high in calcium.
Smoothies, milk, protein shakes and even calcium-fortified orange juice are all beneficial in making sure you get your daily dose of calcium.
3. Go Against Gravity
Just like our muscles, bone is living tissue that gets strong with exercise. Studies show that men and women who exercise regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. The best exercise to build up bone? Focus on weight-bearing exercises like weight training or resistance-type moves using your own body weight.
Also, don’t let that desk job be a deterrent to getting into shape and helping your bones stay strong. There are many exercises you can do at work. Some of these exercises include the chair stand, which builds up the leg muscles.
To try it, sit in a normal-height chair, stand up and then sit down; then repeat. You can also work your triceps by using the resistance against the arm rest, or as an assist if you need some support.
4. Go Low Impact
If you are feeling pain from too much high-impact exercise, and you need to find alternatives, try yoga, water aerobics or an elliptical trainer. Elliptical trainers are the ideal low-impact home workout machine if you don’t have a gym membership.
These trainers allow you to challenge your cardiovascular system and tone muscles without the high-impact shock on your joints from running or jumping.
5. Rest Up
Overuse or injury can break down the cartilage of joints, which can cause a narrowing of the joint space and bones which rub together. This can form bony growths known as bone spurs, which can then lead to possible osteoarthritis.
To stop this from happening, listen to your body and avoid overextending or overusing your joints when exercising. If you feel pain longer than two hours after exercising, your workout was probably too strenuous. If you have a burning sensation in your joints and muscles, rest.
Your body is like a vehicle. It can overheat and needs to slow down at times to cool down. This burning sensation could be a sign of a more serious condition. Always listen to your body and rest when you feel pain. If the pain continues, see a doctor.
6. Stretch it Out
If you are sore the next day after exercising, stretch! As much as you feel like that first cup of coffee is vital for waking up and becoming alert, so is increasing your flexibility and stretching. However, never stretch cold muscles. Do a light warm up before you stretch to make sure your joints, ligaments, and tendons are loosened up first.
7. Make Water Your Friend
Don’t be afraid to get wet. If you have access to a gym that has a pool, use it! Water helps to alleviate weight on the joints in so many ways. Doing your workout in the pool helps take off that extra weight that gravity naturally adds, while also building up muscle and cardiovascular health.
8. Avoid Taking the Stairs
If you have knee trouble, don’t always take the stairs to get those extra few minutes of exercise in each day. The constant use of the stairs can actually add to the breakdown of cartilage of the joints; so get your exercise in a low-impact way and avoid stairs when you can. When you do need to use stairs, try to engage your entire core to take the strain off of your lower body.
9. Get to the Core
To help strengthen your joints, strengthen your core. Building up the abdominal muscles can help ease the burden on joints. This is especially true of the joints in the neck, back, lower back and hips. By having better support all around, you will naturally maintain a healthier posture and put less pressure on those joints.
10. Drop Excess Pounds
If you want to reduce your risk of osteoarthritis and you are overweight, getting rid of excess fat can help to relieve the pressure on your joints. When you walk, go up and down stairs or get in or out of a chair, you can put up to one and a half times your body weight on your joints.
So, a 200-pound man will put 300 pounds of force on his joints with each step. All of that stress from the added weight can increase your risk for osteoarthritis. Once the osteoarthritis has occurred, extra weight will further aggravate the injury with increased pain and further breakdown of the joints.
Luckily, reducing that weight will also give you a huge benefit in relief for your knees. For every pound that you lose, you reduce the pressure on your joints by 1.5 pounds. That return on investment is definitely worth participating in a good weight-loss program.