5 Things Your Joints Need to Age Healthily
Understanding How Joints Work
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 1 in 4 Americans has been diagnosed with a joint disorder such as arthritis or fibromyalgia. In 2014, more than 14 million Americans said they had severe joint pain. Cartilage and other connective tissues tend to wear down with age, making existing joint problems worse and triggering joint issues in people who never had them before.
To protect your joints as you age, it’s important to understand what your joints are and how they work. A joint is any area of the body where two or more bones meet, such as the knees, wrists, and knuckles. They contain cartilage to cushion the bones when they move and reduce friction, as well as a synovial membrane that lines the joint. Inside each synovial membrane is fluid called synovial fluid that helps the joint move. Joints also contain tendons, which are tough bands of connective tissue that connect bones to muscle, and ligaments, which connect bones to other bones.
A problem with any part of a joint can cause joint pain. Left untreated, issues with one part of a joint can lead to further joint damage. This is why a healthy lifestyle and prompt treatment for joint health issues are so important for seniors hoping to remain mobile and active. The following strategies can help:
5 Ways to Maintain Healthy Joints as You Age
Joints can decline with age, but healthy lifestyle strategies can slow the process. To protect joints:
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Eat a balanced diet
- Get plenty of exercise
- Consider joint supplements
Move in ways that protect and support your joints
1. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
Being overweight puts unnecessary pressure on your joints, causing them to wear down faster. Losing just 5 or 10 pounds can improve joint health and make it easier to move without pain.
2. Eat a Healthy, Nutrient-Dense Diet
Eating a wide range of foods ensures that your joints will get the nutrients they need to remain healthy. Some healthy eating strategies that can protect your joints include:
- Stashing healthy snacks in the refrigerator, so they’re ready when you want them.
- Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish. Research shows these foods can protect joint health.
- Eating several small meals throughout the day. This can make it easier to eat a wide variety of foods, and can help you maintain a healthy weight by preventing overeating.
3. Get Plenty of Exercise
If your joints already hurt, exercise might be the last thing on your mind. Yet it’s the single best thing you can do not just for your joints, but for your overall health. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight. It also supports joint health by boosting strength and flexibility. Gentle stretching, yoga, and walks with a dog are great ways to begin exercising. For a more intense workout that won’t hurt aching joints, try water aerobics or swimming laps.
CDC recommends that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise, such as running. There is no upper limit on exercise, and no age group that should avoid exercise. Here are some additional tips for getting your minimum minutes in each week:
Spend Less Time Sitting
Sitting is terrible for your body and joints—especially if you spend long days hunched over a computer. Sitting for long periods can weaken muscles, put needless strain on joints, and worsen preexisting joint conditions. If you have to spend long periods sitting, take a break to walk or stretch every hour. Sit up straight, with your shoulders back, and avoid unnatural or uncomfortable positions.
Keep Your Muscles Strong
Strong muscles can support healthy bones and joints. Strengthening your muscles may help with many types of chronic pain, including pain due to joint issues. Gentle weight-bearing exercises such as pilates, yoga, and lifting weights are appropriate for all age groups. Start slowly, and work up to more challenging exercises. CDC advises that all adults should do muscle-strengthening activities that target all major muscle groups at least two days per week.
4. Try Joint Supplements
Bone density begins decreasing after about age 30. This decrease accelerates late in life, and is especially pronounced in postmenopausal women. Low bone density can lead to osteoporosis, which increases the risk of joint problems and broken bones. To support healthy bones, eat foods rich in vitamin D and calcium, such as milk and cheese. Spending time outside in natural light also offers a healthy dose of vitamin D.
Two supplements, glucosamine and chondroitin, can preserve joint health and slow the damage of osteoarthritis. If you’re concerned about joint health or have been diagnosed with a joint health issue, ask your doctor if these supplements might be a healthy addition to your daily routine.
5. Practice Healthy Movement
The way you move can make joint pain worse, and may even cause muscle and joint injuries that trigger acute or chronic pain. Try the following tips:
- Ditch high heels, which increase the risk of a fall. Replace them with comfortable flat shoes that feel supportive and are easy to walk and run in.
- Avoid straining to lift things. Ask for help instead.
- Never use your back to lift. Bending your back while lifting can cause serious injuries. Instead, lift with your legs by bending your knees. If you can’t lift this way, then the object is too heavy to lift.
- Avoid carrying heavy bags or other objects on one side of the body. It’s time to get rid of the 20-pound briefcase or oversized purse. These put needless strain on the joints on one side of the body, increasing the risk of injuries. Try rolling cases instead.