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You may not be able to see them all, but the human body has hundreds of joints. So, it should be no surprise that joint health is a big deal for all of us.
Take a quick moment to look carefully at one of your hands. Slowly curl it into a tight fist. Now, open it and stretch your fingers outward. Curl each finger one at a time and pay close attention to how they move and flex.
All of that movement is possible because your hand has 27 self-lubricating connections. Each of your feet has 33 of them and your knees are really just a pair of very big and important joints. Many of your joints can withstand intense compression and hold heavy loads while still executing smooth and precise movements.
You use them when you walk to the mailbox, while you’re driving to work, when you roll out of bed in the morning, and even when you sit down to relax. You are never not using your joints.
So, it’s no surprise that even a little discomfort in a few joints can give you a seriously bad day. And you can have joint pain regardless of your age. Yes, as we get older our body’s ability to maintain and lubricate our joints begins to weaken. But discomfort can also be the result of exercise, putting unnecessary stress on our bodies, or not getting proper nutrition.
Whether you’re experiencing joint pain or not, today is the day to begin taking better care of your joints. Take a look below at four simple ways to live for better joints. Make them a part of your healthy lifestyle and you’ll feel the difference with every step you take.
1. Exercise for Flexibility and Core Strength
Strong, flexible muscles support your joints. By strengthening certain muscle groups, you can provide some serious backing to your joint health. An obvious way to do this is to work out with weights or resistance bands. But here are a few other ways to exercise for healthy joints.
- Take a nice walk. It’s free, simple, and you can do it almost anywhere. Walking is a great way to give your joints the movement they need and maintain muscle strength in your legs, feet, and core (abdominals and back).
- Stretch frequently. Stretching your muscles and joints will not only relieve pressure and discomfort but will also increase your flexibility and range of movement.
- Go swimming or cycling. These are fun activities that can strengthen your body and stretch your joints without causing them too much stress. And since they’re aerobic exercises, they’ll also help strengthen your heart and cardiovascular health.
- Live actively. You don’t always need to go to the gym or hit the pavement for a good workout. By staying active at home, you can strengthen your muscles and support your joints. Work in the yard, do some cleaning, take the long way when putting out the trash.
Just remember to always warm up then do some easy stretches before doing any serious workout routine. And listen to your body. Exercise is supposed to challenge your body, but it shouldn’t cause lasting pain.
2. Eat Foods for Healthy Joints
It’s no surprise that the foods you eat can make or break your overall health. And there are nutrients that can specifically support healthy joint lubrication and cartilage. Incorporating these into your diet can make a world of difference when it comes to caring for your joints. Here are some of these nutrients and the foods that contain them.
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been known to support heart health, neural development, and also joint health. They can be found in walnuts, chia seeds, Brussels sprouts, and fatty fish like sardines, mackerel, tuna, and salmon.
- Antioxidants combat harmful free radicals—highly reactive substances that can damage important cellular components. They’re found in foods that contain vitamins A, C, E, and selenium. Some examples are citrus fruit, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, red peppers, kale, nuts, whole grains, and seeds. Learn more about free radicals and antioxidants and their overall impact on health.
- Vitamin D may play a significant role in overall joint health because it aids absorption of calcium—a major structural element of bones and teeth. It can be found in egg yolks, shitake mushrooms, milk, yogurt, liver, fortified foods, and most seafood.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
As a general rule, proper weight management can also take a lot of strain off your joints. Research has shown that walking and running can put 2–10 times the force of your body weight on the knee and hip joints. In other words, for every extra 10 pounds you carry around, it will put an additional 20–100 pounds of force on these joints.
So try to avoid sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods, and eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Your joints will thank you for every additional pound you can keep off.
To figure out if your weight is in the healthy range and for additional tips start here.
4. Boost Your Nutrition With Supplements
Getting proper nutrition can be a daunting task. And with our busy lives, sometimes it’s worth it to use supplements to give our bodies the nutritional support they need. Many supplements can support your body’s ability to maintain healthy joints and bones. Some even contain powerful ingredients you can’t get from typical food sources.
Take glucosamine, for example. This amino sugar is a naturally occurring chemical found in the human body and an important precursor in the biosynthesis of cartilage—the “cushion” that lines your joints. Numerous studies show that glucosamine may help maintain healthy cartilage, healthy joints, and full-range of motion in the short term.
But glucosamine is hard to find in foods you buy at your average grocery store. If you want to incorporate it into your diet at levels shown to be effective, you’ll need to use supplements.
Learn more about nutritional supplements that contain glucosamine.
Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, and antioxidants are also found in many nutritional supplements. However, you should consult your physician before adding any dietary supplements to your daily routine.
Learn more about the overall health benefits of nutritional supplements.
This is really just the beginning—the first few steps on your journey to healthier joints. But with time and patience, these will be steps that take you in the right direction. So dust off your running shoes, get moving, and put the spring in your step. Your joints will feel the difference.
About the Author
Dr. Brian Dixon earned his Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology from Oregon State University in affiliation with the Linus Pauling Institute. Dr. Dixon leads the department of health and science education as its executive director, where he continues to lecture internationally and manages the very popular health and wellness website AskTheScientists.com.