Your every movement – bending, turning, lifting, sitting, standing and even lying down – are controlled by your joints. Healthy joints allow you to run, walk, jump, play sports and do the other things you like to do.
A joint is the connection between two bones. Cartilage, a smooth connective tissue on the end of bones, cushions joints and helps them move smoothly and easily. It also protects the bones by preventing them from rubbing against each other.
Certain joints are rigid, such as the ones between the bones in your skull. There are also movable joints like those in your knees, hips and shoulders.
Though they’re needed for each and every movement we make, most of us take our joints for granted.
But once you have a little joint pain or swelling, you have no choice but to start paying attention. However, by then, you’re already suffering.
To keep your joints healthy and prevent joint-related issues, you need to take care of them properly, starting in the childhood years.
The best way to care for your joints, or your children’s, is to keep them along with the muscles, ligaments and bones strong and stable.
By adopting certain lifestyle and dietary practices, your joints can remain healthy for years.
Here’s how you can keep your joints healthy.
1. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is key to joint health. Being overweight increases your risk of having joint-related problems in the coming years.
Excess body weight puts added pressure on weight-bearing joints, which can cause wear and tear on the joints. This increases your risk of developing osteoarthritis, the most common joint disorder.
Plus, extra body weight may lead to inflammation in the body, which contributes to joint pain and other problems.
If you are overweight, set goals to lose weight in a slow, gradual manner. It will help prevent joint problems and can be helpful even if you already have joint pain.
A reduction of body fat can help reduce the mechanical and biochemical stressors that contribute to joint degeneration, according to a 2012 study by the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Moreover, a 2005 study published in Arthritis Rheumatism notes that each pound of weight loss reduces knee-joint loads in overweight and obese older adults with knee osteoarthritis.
2. Exercise to Strengthen Joints
Regular exercise helps strengthen the muscles and ligaments surrounding joints, thus protecting them from damage. It even makes your bones strong.
Plus, exercise aids weight loss, which also reduces the strain and pressure on joints.
- Walking, swimming and cycling are all low-impact forms of cardio exercises that help strengthen the bones as well as joints. You can do these exercises for 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
- Strengthening exercises like lifting light weights can be done twice a week, mixed with stretching and relaxation exercises.
- Ask your physical therapist to recommend some range-of-motion exercises to improve your joint health.
Regardless of the type of exercise you do, take time to rest after exercising to give your joints and muscles time to repair themselves. In addition, always keep your body composition in mind when choosing an exercise.
If you have joint pain or any other joint-related problems, consult a physiotherapist to help you put together a program of stretching and strengthening exercises.
3. Strengthen Muscles around Joints
To keep your joints in prime condition, it is important to strengthen the muscles around your joints. Strong muscles in your legs and hands will reduce stress and pressure on these heavily used joints. It will also give the joints better support.
Strong thigh muscles can reduce your risk of knee osteoarthritis to a great extent.
A 2012 study published in Sports Health reports that people with knee osteoarthritis have significant muscle impairments. These impairments affect physical function and should be targeted in therapy.
Also, stronger abs and back muscles help your balance. This makes you less likely to fall or get injured.
- Do some weight-training exercises to help build up the muscles in your legs.
- Also, include core (abdominal, back and hip) strengthening exercises in your routine.
- Pilates and yoga are great workouts to try.
Note: Alternate strength-training and resistance exercises every other day to give your muscles time to recover.
4. Warm Up before Exercising
Before you start your regular exercise routine, you need to do a 10-minute warm-up session.
A short warm-up helps increase your blood circulation, which prepares your muscles and joints for the workout you are about to do.
Warming up even improves flexibility of the joints, so that your joints can move through their full range of motion. It loosens up the joints as well as ligaments and tendons around them.
If you exercise without warming up, your joints will remain stiff, making them more prone to injuries.
Do a light warm-up, such as jogging for 10 minutes, every time before exercising or playing any sport. Along with a warm-up, do some stretching exercises to further help your joints and muscles work properly under the strain of exercise.
5. Maintain Good Posture
Posture refers to the position of your body that you maintain while standing, sitting or lying down.
A good posture puts the least amount of strain on supporting muscles and ligaments when you move or perform any kind of activity.
On the other hand, poor posture can lead to tight, achy muscles in the neck, back, arms and legs as well as joint stiffness and pain in the coming years.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science reports that sitting with the legs crossed for longer than three hours per day may cause shoulder inclination, lateral pelvic tilt and forward head posture. These are factors that can cause pain and changes in the joints.
Whether you are walking, sitting, lying down or exercising, strive to maintain the correct posture. In fact, the art of good posture should be taught from early childhood. However, you can learn good posture anytime.
Even doctors advise good posture for treating joint pain. A 2000 study published in the BMJ states that instinctive sleeping and resting postures are helpful in the treatment of low back and joint pain.
6. Change Positions
Sitting or standing in the same position for hours can be harmful for your joints. Do not sit or stand for more than an hour at a time. Instead, you need to keep changing your position. It’s the golden rule for maintaining healthy joints.
The more you change your position at frequent intervals, the less stiff your joints will be.
At the same time, always listen to your body and know when it’s time to change your position. It has been found that people who have standing or sitting jobs tend to ignore the pain they might be having and continue their work.
The next time you are working in front of your computer, take a break every few hours and go for a 10-minute walk. Also, change positions often, no matter whether you are reading, working or watching TV.
7. Feed Your Joints and Bones
To strengthen your joints and bones, you need to keep a close eye on your diet.
Eating foods high in calcium, vitamins C and K, omega-3 fatty acids, dietary protein, magnesium and potassium can greatly help keep your joints healthy and strong.
- Calcium is needed for healthy joints and can prevent osteoporosis and other bone-related problems. Eat green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale, collard greens, mustard greens, beet greens, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard and other greens to boost your calcium intake.
- Vitamin C aids in collagen formation and normal bone development. Eat fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, such as papayas, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, pineapple, oranges, kiwi, and cantaloupe.
- To boost bone density, eat foods rich in vitamin K, such as leafy greens, meat, cheese and eggs.
- Dietary protein improves calcium retention and bone metabolism. Some good dietary protein sources are dairy products, meats, and beans.
- Omega-3 fatty acids improve bone mineral density. These fatty acids are primarily found in fatty fish and some nuts and seeds, such as walnuts and flaxseeds.
- Foods rich in potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and zinc can increase bone density and help fight bone-related problems.
Also, include more inflammation-fighting foods such as turmeric, onion, garlic, whole grains, almonds, green leafy vegetables and fruits to prevent inflammation in the body that causes joint pain.
In addition, do not ignore the importance of fluid intake. Keep your fluid intake up to prevent dehydration, which can impact joint health.
8. Wear the Right Shoes
Proper footwear is important for joint and bone health.
Remember, you are on your feet most of the time during the day, and walking around in uncomfortable shoes can cause damage to your joint health.
It’s particularly harmful for the muscles, joints and ligaments in your feet, legs, hips and back.
Not wearing the right shoes may also contribute to knee joint problems. A 2010 study published in Arthritis Care Research confirms that footwear may have significant effects on knee loads during walking in subjects with knee osteoarthritis.
- A good, solid pair of shoes with a textured sole and ankle support is what you should aim for.
- Avoid wearing high heels for extended periods of time. Instead, switch to flat shoes or a lower heel (less than 3 inches) for daily wear.
- Change out your shoes regularly, about every 6 to 8 months, including your running shoes.
You can always consult a podiatrist to help you choose the right type of footwear for your body type and health status.
9. Quit Smoking
Smokers tend to have lower bone density and higher risk of fractures than those who do not smoke. The harmful chemicals in cigarettes prevent the body from efficiently absorbing calcium, thereby decreasing bone mass.
Cigarette smoking even affects the production of hormones like estrogen and testosterone, which affect bone growth and strength. It also worsens chronic musculoskeletal conditions, such as low-back pain and degenerative disc disease.
All these factors affect the health of your joints.
A 2007 study published in the Annals of Rheumatic Disease highlights the connection between cigarette smoking and the risk for cartilage loss and knee pain in men with knee osteoarthritis.
Smoking can even make you too thin and increase your risk for fractures. So, it is time to quit smoking.
10. Limit Soda Beverages
Limit how much soda you drink to enjoy healthy and pain-free joints. Drinking soda in excess can lead to reduced bone mineral density and an increased risk of fracture. Any kind of fracture hampers joint health.
Excess soda intake increases the phosphate level in the blood, which leads to depletion of calcium from your bones.
It even prevents proper absorption of calcium. An imbalance in the calcium-phosphorus ratio in the body is very harmful for both bones and joints.
Even the caffeine in soda drinks is harmful for your joints. Too much soda intake can lead to chronic joint pain.
Plus, soda is rich in sugar content, which the body stores as fat and causes weight gain. The greater your body weight, the more pressure your joints have to bear.
A 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also notes that frequently drinking sugar-sweetened soda beverages may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- Those who play sports should maintain their sports gear. Worn-out, old or torn gear increases the risk of an injury.
- While playing sports, wear the necessary braces to protect your ankles, knees and elbows from sudden injuries.
- If you are at a higher risk of developing joint-related problems, consider taking supplements. Consult your doctor to help you choose the right supplement.
- While stretching, keep your feet as flat as possible to avoid twisting your knees.
- When jumping, try to land with your knees bent to reduce the jarring impact on your bones, muscles and joints.
- After vigorous sports or exercise, take time to rest. This helps your body cool down and allows your muscles and joints to begin the process of repairing themselves.
- If you have joint pain after exercise, applying an ice pack on your joints can help you manage pain and prevent swelling.
- Don’t make babies walk ahead of schedule. Allow their bones and joints to develop properly before they start walking.
- Keep the flexibility and endurance level of your joints in mind before choosing an exercise.
- Drink a lot of water and avoid aerated drinks, white sugar and processed foods.
- Do not run a marathon without proper training.
- If your joints are paining, see your doctor right away for treatment.