Joint health is a critical part of our overall health. Optimal joint health leads to a better quality of life. However, poor joint health causes a lot of discomfort and difficulty. Joint pain and stiffness can be disheartening and overwhelming. Thankfully, even just minor tweaks to your lifestyle can have a positive impact. Your joint health hinges on a few things—here are some ways to strengthen your joints and keep them healthy.
1- Stay active
The more you move, the more you can do! Staying active is one of the best things you can do for your joint health. There are multiple ways you can keep active during the day.
The most obvious way is to start an exercise routine. Exercise can reduce stiffness and soreness, boost your energy, and keep you flexible. A joint-beneficial exercise program should include these three types of exercises:
- Strength training: Using a resistance band or using light weights will help build muscle that will support your joints
- Low to medium impact aerobics: Examples include biking, walking, swimming, or even dancing. These exercises build endurance and get your heart pumping.
- Flexibility exercises: This type of workout will help you warm up and stretch your muscles and joints which can help reduce pain and stiffness.
Aside from exercise, you can make small changes to your daily routine. If you work a desk job, get up and walk around throughout the day. Make sure to stand up every hour. Walk around your office while you are on the phone. Take a short walk on your lunch break. This habit is applicable outside of the office too. If you sit a lot at home, get up every hour, move, and change positions. Walk into the next room for a drink or do a few stretches.
2- Lose weight
Extra weight can put additional strain on your joints, specifically your knees, hips, and back. These joints are considered weight-bearing joints. Losing even a few pounds can make a big difference. In fact, losing one pound of weight takes four pounds of pressure off your knees. Losing anywhere from 10-15 pounds can significantly reduce your risk of osteoarthritis as you age.
Losing weight will help take pressure off your joints, reduce pain and inflammation, and reduce your risk of chronic disease. Talk with your doctor about sustainable ways to lose weight. Gradual, maintainable weight loss is the best way to go because you are more likely to keep the weight off.
3- Stretching and flexibility
It is important to keep up your flexibility and range of motion. If you can’t move your joints to normal capacity and experience stiffness, you need to improve your flexibility. Speak with a physical therapist about different stretches you can do. But, for now, here are some tips.
- The stronger your muscles you are, the more flexible your joints will be. In addition to flexibility exercises, include some strengthening exercises.
- Include a variety of stretches that target different groups of muscles and joints.
- Practice your flexibility at the end of a work-out or later in the evening.
4- Work your core
A big risk that comes with joint problems is falling. The best way to prevent falls is to improve your balance. Strong abdominal muscles improve your overall core strength and balance. Strengthening your core also involves your back and hip muscles. Strengthening your core has many benefits outside of joint health, including injury prevention, body strength, and managing pain.
Great core exercises include leg lifts, yoga, seated side bends, pilates, and planks.
5- Watch for red flags
When dealing with joint pain, you will quickly know when you have overdone it. Your body will send you red flags, letting you know it is time to take a step back. Some soreness or tenderness after physical activity or a long day is normal. But if you feel increased pain or stiffness in the following days, that may be a sign. “Pushing through the pain” can lead to an injury or increased pain—take a break for a few days or do a lower-impact activity next time.
6- Try a supplement
Joint supplements are intended to reduce joint inflammation and cartilage breakdown while lessening the risk of diseases like arthritis. Look for supplements that include more than just chondroitin and glucosamine (though these nutrients should be included). Other nutrients to look out for our SAM-E, MSM, hyaluronic acid, bromelain, vitamin C, and quercetin. All of these nutrients can help reduce stiffness, inflammation, pain, and overall joint discomfort. A quality supplement can help reduce age-related wear-and-tear that often leads to cartilage damage and joint discomfort.
7- Omega-3 fatty acids
You need fish oils! Why? Because fish contains essential omega-3 fatty acids—EPA and DHA. These fatty acids lessen the intensity of joint discomforts. They specifically target joint swelling and inflammation. You can find omega-3s in fish like salmon and mackerel, or you can take fish oil pills. Fish oil pills may be more practical since the typical diet does not include a lot of fish.
Omega-3 fatty acids also support optimal heart health and can help lower blood pressure.
8- Keep up your bone health
Your bone strength and joint health go hand-in-hand. Taking care of your bones will also take care of your joints. Here are a few tips for improving your bone health.
- Get more calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Dairy products and leafy greens are great sources.
- Cut back on your smoking and drinking.
- Try strength training and weight-bearing exercises.
9- Work on your posture
Improving your posture is a good idea for everyone. Standing and sitting up straight helps keep your joints healthy. Improved posture is specifically good for your back, neck, and knees. By making a few simple changes, you can quickly better your posture:
- Going for a walk or for a swim
- When you stand, keep your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart
- Let your arms hang by your sides
- Keep your feet on the floor when you sit’
- Avoid sitting in the same position for extended periods of time
- Find a good mattress and don’t sleep on your stomach
- Don’t cross your legs when you sit
10- Manage your pain
There are many methods for easing your joint pain. As mentioned above, you can stretch, exercise, and take fish oil pills. But on the days when your pain seems unbearable, there are a few things you can try.
Hot and cold therapy. Heat treatments include using a heating pad, sleeping with an electric blanket, taking a warm bath or shower, or using a heating application gel or cream. For cold treatments, try an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables. Leave it on for about 20 minutes.
Massage. Getting a massage can help relax your joints. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, having a regular massage can reduce pain and stiffness and even improving your range of motion.
Medication. If you are having extended periods of intense joint pain, speak with your doctor about your medication options. He/she can prescribe a medication to help reduce your pain.