There is no doubt that healthy and flexible joints can help you feel better and do a lot more for longer.
So how can we try to keep joints healthy and flexible well into life?
Here are some tips …
Move regularly to “oil your joints”
Joints have a natural lubricant known as “synovial fluid”. This fluid helps “oil” the joints and protect them from stiffening up over time. It does this by providing lubrication, transport of nutrients and shock absorption to the joints.
Healthy levels of synovial fluid in the joints assist in keeping joints fully functional and delaying the onset of osteoarthritis (OA). Note, I say delaying because from our teenage years onwards we all develop some level of OA throughout our body. This is a natural part of the “wear and tear” of ageing, which particularly affects the articular cartilage of the joints (the smooth surfaces of the joints).
Regular exercise is an important part of reducing the impact of this natural degeneration until our autumn years. Moving joints stimulates the body to keep producing synovial fluid. So, for pain free healthy joints, remember to “move it or lose it”.
Do a mix of weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercise
A simple view is that running is bad for the knees because of the impact on them and cycling is good for the knees because of the reduced impact. This is can be true for those who overdo the running side of things on hard surfaces, but some level of weight bearing exercise is good for our bones and joints.
For healthy and strong bones and joints, a mix of weight-bearing exercise and non-weight-bearing exercise is best. For example, cycling is good for the knees as it is repetitive movement, and movement of joints that is repetitive helps stimulate the production of synovial fluid.
The fact that cycling also involves partial weight bearing has some advantages in the sense that it is generally not a source of excess stress on the load-bearing structures in the joints, including the menisci and articular cartilage (depending on how vigorously you exercise).
Joints and the bones around them need some loading but in a balanced way. Weight bearing through the leg bones is what helps stimulate the body to keep these bones dense and strong, which helps prevent the onset of osteoporosis and other issues relating to brittle bones. So, some weight bearing is important. Astronauts in space who are not able to bear weight can develop a condition known as spaceflight osteopenia.
Combining cycling, jogging and swimming in relatively equal measure is an excellent example of combining weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises. Other examples may include:
- Doing yoga twice a week and walking five times a week
- Rowing three times a week, doing squats three times a week and walking regularly
- Swimming twice a week and jogging twice a week.
Consider the mix of exercises you do and see whether you are mixing weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercise. How kind are you being to your joints and bones? Remember also that good quality shoes and weight bearing on softer surfaces can also help ensure you are getting the right balance of exercising without excess strain.
A good diet for your joints
Weight control is important in helping reduce the weight load on your joints, in particular the weight-bearing joints in the spine, hips and knees. Carrying excess weight is simply increasing the load you are placing on these joints and this can make them more vulnerable to early degeneration.
In terms of more specific foods that are good for your joints, the literature on this varies a great deal. It is safe to say a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables along with drinking plenty of water and hydrating fluids will assist the health of your whole body, including your joints.
Outside of this, be aware that there is a fine line between guidelines on nutrition for healthy joints and outright marketing for dietary supplements. Consult with your doctor or dietitian for advice regarding supplements that are appropriate for your age and individual needs.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) v Osteoarthritis (OA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects less than 1% of people. This is far rarer than osteoarthritis (OA) which affects virtually all of us in adulthood to varying degrees, generally more so as we age.
Consultation with your doctor is important if you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.
In my 20 years of being a Physiotherapist I have seen many people get these two terms confused and Google themselves into a state of flurry about what their “diagnosis” of Osteoarthritis (OA) means to them. Don’t let this happen to you! They are very different!
Have a healthy and productive day,