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.