As we age, we may notice not-so-pleasant changes in our body, especially painful joints. However, experts say that some of these changes can be mitigated with healthier daily habits.
Osteoarthritis affects 30 million U.S. adults, and the numbers are steadily increasing. In fact, a study from Harvard University reveals the rate of knee osteoarthritis has doubled since 1950. This is partially because we have a larger aging population but it’s also the result of the higher prevalence of obesity.
But, according to Eat This, Not That!, changing common habits can boost joint health.
• Avoid sitting too much. A sedentary lifestyle can cause stiffness and weakness in the joints. Numerous studies have found that sitting too much increases the risk for painful conditions, including chronic joint pain and stiffness, degenerative joint disease and arthritis, say the experts at Meier Orthopedic Sports Medicine Group. Try using a standing desk or get up and walk every 30 to 60 minutes if your job requires sitting.
• Stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause joint pain, but by drinking water throughout the day, you can help prevent this. Your joints have a lubricating fluid that helps them move smoothly and freely, explains Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer. “When this fluid is not plentiful, you may end up with tightness, popping joints, and pain,” she says.
• Watch your posture. Bad posture while sitting at a desk can cause neck, shoulder, and back problems. The professionals at Spine-Health suggest placing your feet flat on the ground and keeping your back flush against the back of the chair. Keep your monitor at eye level so you don’t strain your neck and adjust the chair height to that your thighs angle down slightly to evenly distribute weight through the sit bones.
• Use strength training to maintain joint health. MacPherson says that strength training improves joint health and can even help manage joint pain and diseases like osteoporosis. “Performing strength training exercises at least two to three times per week is ideal,” she says. Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a leading sports medicine expert, says that resistance bands may be easier than free weights for older adults. He offers a simple, strength training program using inexpensive resistance bands, here.
• Lose weight. It may seem obvious, but being overweight does put extra strain on your joints, causing them to wear faster. “Having overweight or obesity is a contributor to joint problems if you also don’t have enough muscle mass to support your weight,” explains MacPherson.
• Include mobility exercises. Kelly and Juliet Starrett just published their most recent book, Built to Move, that includes 10 ways to improve mobility ─ a factor the authors believe is as essential to good health as monitoring your blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Mobility focuses on the range of motion within your joints to improve their function. A simple test to assess your mobility is to sit cross-legged and rise to stand without using your hands.
• Carry weight evenly. Whether hoisting your gym bag or carrying home weekly groceries, make sure to distribute the weight on both sides of the body evenly. Carrying heavy items on one side of your body can cause imbalance and strain on the joints. Use a backpack with two straps or switch sides frequently to avoid joint problems.
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