The saying “If you don’t use it, you will lose it” is true when it comes to your body’s joints. Of course, using them is often easier said than done as you get older. Even if you are unable to do moderate to heavy physical activity, maintaining flexibility in your joints is essential, especially as your joints age. There are many different ways to begin improving your joints, and we will discuss ten of these methods shortly. First, however, we must go over how our joints function and why they are so important.
How Joints Work
So, how exactly do the joints work, and why are they so important? Joints are the areas between bones in your body that allow the bones to move in relation to one another. Joints have different structures and functions, including:
Cartilaginous joints (which are held together by cartilage and can slightly move)
Fibrous joints (joints that are held into place by fibrous connective tissue and therefore cannot move)
Synovial joints (joints with synovial cavities that hold the fluid that gets secreted by the synovial membrane)
Since joints are subject to a lot of movement and are weight bearing, they require cushioning to keep them intact. This is why we have cartilage surrounding our joints. Cartilage is the smooth connective tissue found on the ends of our bones that cushions and supports our joints’ abilities to move.
Tips For Keeping Aging Joints Healthy
With time comes wear and tear. Years of walking, running, and exercising can cause cartilage to break down, which results in chronic inflammation, which further contributes to the breakdown of cartilage around the joints. If not caught in time and properly treated, cartilage can wear away entirely, and the bone joints can rub together.
Bone spurs (which are minuscule bony projections) can occur when the joints are damaged by osteoarthritis, which creates a wearing down of the cartilage that leads to the bones rubbing together.
It is best to avoid cartilage breakdown and joint damage, and the best way to do so is by being aware of what is going on in your body. The following are 10 ways that senior adults can be proactive about their joint health regardless of whether or not they display symptoms of osteoarthritis (OA) or other bone diseases that cause joint damage.
1. Use Padding
If you love being active, that’s great! However, you need to keep in mind that even minor falls can sometimes lead to unexpected joint damage. As goofy as you think you might look, wearing knee and elbow pads while doing activities like roller skating or ice skating can help protect your joints from damage sustained during unanticipated slips and falls. Even low-impact sports can be dangerous for those with OA or other bone diseases, so it is best to wear a little bit of protective gear over the highly susceptible joints in your knees and elbows.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight
This is easier said than done for many people, but maintaining a healthy weight is critical for keeping our joints healthy. Since our joints are weight-bearing, excess weight can place additional strain on the joints in our spines, knees, and hips. If you are worried about your weight and how it is affecting your joint health, you should contact your doctor to see how much weight they recommend losing and what might be some of the most effective ways for you to lose it. Note that doctors will likely prescribe some changes in your daily exercise and diet regimen.
3. Do Light Warm-Ups to Activate Your Joints
How many times a week do you stretch your muscles? Senior citizens should be stretching at least three times per week in order to enhance their balance and flexibility. Stretching is best done when your muscles are already warmed up a little bit. Going for a ten-minute walk to generate a little bit of heat in your muscles can loosen up your joints and the tendons and ligaments that surround them.
4. Try Low-Impact Exercises
As you get older, you might find yourself having to switch from your favorite high-impact exercise activities (such as running or lifting weights) to low-impact activities. High-impact activities put a lot of stress and strain on your joints, and this can cause a lot of painful wear and tear on your joints and cartilage over time. If you start noticing a lot of joint pain when you exercise, try doing something that has a lower impact, such as swimming, bicycling, walking, or yoga.
5. Pump Yourself Up
The stronger your muscles are, the better shape your joints will stay in. Any amount of muscle strength makes a difference, so it can really be beneficial to do some strength training. Of course, this should be done with the help of a trainer who is sensitive to the different needs of senior citizens and can give you insight into how to work your body without causing too much stress on the joints from improper or repetitive flexing.
6. Ramp Up Your Range of Motion
If you have joint issues, you most likely suffer from a lacking range of motion. Pain in the cervical and spinal joints can make it difficult to turn your head to the right and left or bend it forward or backward. Degeneration of cartilage and joints in the elbows and knees can make adduction and abduction strenuous and limited. Again, working with a physical therapist or trainer can help you increase your range of motion without doing further damage to your joints.
7. Avoid Overdoing It On NSAIDs
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Naproxen and Ibuprofen can temporarily relieve pain from damaged joints, but relief is only temporary and might actually lead to more severe problems with your joints. Research is now showing that glucosamine and chondroitin provide more long-term benefits since they are able to stimulate specialized cells in the body that keep cartilage healthy. Before taking these over-the-counter supplements, be sure to consult your doctor to see if these supplements might be right for you.
8. Consume Natural Anti-Inflammatory Agents
In addition to taking helpful supplements, you might want to add more anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Foods like turmeric, fish (due to their containing omega-3s), artichoke, cranberries, goji berries, and blueberries are all known to help reduce inflammation throughout the body. Those with OA tend to experience an elevated amount of inflammation throughout the joints and can, therefore, benefit from consuming anti-inflammatory foods.
9. Work On Maintaining Proper Posture
Do you tend to slouch? Many of us do. The fact of the matter is that we live in a sedentary society where sitting has become the norm. Many of us struggle with hunched postures, and this can put a lot of stress on the spinal and cervical joints. Maintaining a proper posture can alleviate some of this physical stress and keep our joints healthy. As some researchers have learned from studying the spines of those from indigenous cultures, their J-shaped spines tend to be healthier than our S-shaped ones; in fact, elders in these societies tend to have very few complaints about back pain! Correcting the shape of your spine to a more natural J-shape can help reduce pain in your joints.
10. Know Your Limitations
Last, but certainly not least, is the importance of knowing your limits. If you absolutely cannot walk for more than 20 minutes, don’t. If you are doing a certain yoga pose but find it to be too painful, ease yourself out of it and take a rest. Even as older adults, we still sometimes think we can do what our 20-year-old selves were able to do, and this often just isn’t the case. Push yourself only to your limits, not beyond, and remain mindful of how your body is feeling before, during, and after any exercise. And, of course, be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before trying any new medication, supplement, or exercise routine.
There is no magical fountain of youth that can keep us healthy, even though we sometimes like to hold out hope. We can, however, take proactive measures to ensure that our bodies do not sustain damage that ages them in advance and causes us years of agonizing pain and discomfort. Your joint health matters, so if you start to notice some stiffness or aching in your joints, consider what changes you might need to make and enlist the help of your doctor and/or physical therapist.