Your joints, like any hardware, get worn with use. But developing a few healthy habits can help safeguard them.
Lighten the Load
If you’re over your ideal weight, slimming down can make every step that much gentler. “Every 1 pound you take off of your body is actually 4 pounds (of pressure) off your knees, as you’re doing your daily activities,” says Karen M. Sutton, MD, a sports medicine physician and a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Getting regular activity increases your range of motion and reduces inflammatory markers in your blood, like c-reactive protein, which signal unhealthy changes. “It’s important to get some extra movement, even if it’s just walking,” Sutton says. “Instead of having somebody bring the paper in for you, you walk to get the paper. If you’re going out for dinner, park a few blocks away and walk there. Over time, that helps increase the flexibility and lubricating factors of the joint, which in turn protects the cartilage.”
Strengthening the muscles around the joints is important—building your quadriceps and hamstrings, for example, helps stabilize your knees. “I equate the joint to a growing sapling, with support strings to hold it straight,” Sutton says. “The muscles are like those support strings.”
But don’t stop there. Research shows that it’s also important to develop your overall strength, which includes working your core, glutes and posterior muscles. “Maybe you’re stretching on a Bosu ball, so you have to hold your ankle and your core still,” Sutton suggests. “Or you’re doing pushups with your feet on an exercise ball. Anything that adds a little balance training is good for the joints.”Eat Smart