Treat your joints right now, and they’ll thank you later.
The good news is that just about everything you can do to benefit your joints is good for the rest of you, as well. And, no matter what your age, it’s not too late to prevent joint pain. Here’s how:
1. Drink your milk. You can’t have healthy joints without having strong bones. That’s why it’s important to consume enough calcium—which is found in milk, cheese, yogurt and leafy greens—to prevent joint pain. It’s estimated that only 32 percent of U.S. adults get enough calcium. Are you getting your 1,000 grams a day? If not, consider adding six ounces of yogurt (300 milligrams), eight ounces of milk (300 milligrams) or one ounce of American cheese (195 milligrams).
2. Get some sun. Vitamin D enhances calcium absorption. It’s found in foods like salmon, crimini mushrooms, as well as in fortified milk and cereal, but can be difficult to get enough of through food alone. The good news is that it’s also created when our skin is exposed to sunshine and, in winter, a vitamin D supplement can help get the job done.
3. Watch your weight. If you’re overweight, that means more impact on your joints. In fact, research has proven that a 10- to 15-pound weight loss in obese young people can translate to a much lower risk of osteoarthritis later in life.
4. Watch your heel height. Anything over two inches puts extra strain on your knees. If you must, wear comfy shoes during your commute and change into your heels upon arrival.
5. Eat to fight inflammation. Arthritis affects about 26 percent of women and 18 percent of men, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help. That means healthy fats rich in omega-3, lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish. Looking for more ideas? Here are 12 foods to improve your joint health.
6. Stay strong. Building muscle strength in your legs and your abdomen goes a long way in protecting your knees and back. You can do that with free weights, yoga, Pilates and resistance exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups and planks.
7. Do low-impact exercises. Ask experts if high-impact sports hurt your joints, and you’ll get a wide variety of responses. Until science answers that question definitively, it’s probably smart to mix up your exercise routine. Alternate high-impact sports like tennis with low- or no-impact activities like swimming or yoga.
8. Avoid injuries. Easier said than done, right? But there are steps you can take to lessen the chance of injury. Start any new exercise routine slowly and, if you feel pain, back off. Your workout should challenge you, not hurt you.
9. Stay hydrated. The cartilage in joints is made up primarily of water. When you’re dehydrated, your joints are more susceptible to injury—and less cushy.
10. Lift the right way. This one benefits mostly the back, but it’s important. When lifting a heavy object, make sure to use your legs, not your back.
If your joints are already hurting, don’t just soldier on through the pain. There are many causes of joint pain—and also many treatments. Learn more about how you can exercise the right way with our guide, Exercising to Keep Your Joints Healthy.