If you're creaking and groaning your way out of bed each morning, take comfort in the fact that the majority of the 50-plus crowd is with you. As we age, joints can get stiff and sore, even if we're in fantastic shape otherwise. Here's what you need to know about aging cartilage and joints, along with a wealth of ways to keep your joints healthy and reduce your aches and pains.
Cartilage is the rubbery tissue that covers the ends of the bones and cushions the joints. The synovium is a membrane that produces a thick fluid that keeps cartilage healthy. But as we age, the cartilage naturally deteriorates due to a lifetime of use, and the synovium can thicken and become inflamed. This can cause pain and discomfort, and it may lead to chronic joint inflammation, which produces excessive fluid in the joint and causes swelling. This inflammation and swelling can lead to arthritis.
For the 30 million American adults who suffer from osteoarthritis, or OA, joint pain can be debilitating. The joints most commonly affected by OA are the hands, feet, hips, knees, and spine. Known as degenerative joint disease, OA is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S. and primarily affects people over the age of 55. It leads to further degeneration of the cartilage, and the lack of lubrication and cushioning can cause the bones to rub against each other, causing more pain and inflammation in the surrounding tissues.
You aren't necessarily at the mercy of your aging joints. There are plenty of things you can do to improve and maintain your joint health and reduce the pain and swelling without having to resort to OTC pain relievers, which can have negative side effects if they're over-used. Here are some surefire ways to improve the function of your joints and make your life a little less stiff and sore.
Carrying extra weight puts stress on your bones, joints, and cartilage, especially in your hips and knees. Losing weight depends on adopting a healthier lifestyle that includes nutritious food and regular exercise. Over time, these two lifestyle changes alone will lead to significant weight loss, which can help decrease the symptoms of OA or prevent OA altogether, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
Even if you don't need to lose weight, your joints benefit greatly from regular physical activity. In fact, Harvard Medical School stresses that exercise is one of the best and most effective ways to combat arthritis and other joint pain and improve joint function. Low-impact exercises like yoga, swimming, walking, and cycling strengthen your muscles and help you maintain strong bones and joints.
Calcium is an important mineral for strong bones. When you’re getting enough calcium in your diet and through supplementation, you can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis and OA. Dairy products contain lots of calcium, but so do broccoli, kale, salmon, and figs. If your daily intake of calcium is low, consider taking a quality calcium supplement.
Antioxidants reduce your risk of osteoarthritis, and they combat the ravages of aging. Antioxidants show up in abundance in fresh fruits and vegetables, which are also packed with joint-loving phytochemicals.
Before you engage in exercise, do a five-minute warm-up to get your muscles and joints ready to rock. This helps to prevent injuries in muscles, bones, and joints, and it can help reduce exercise-induced aching later. To warm up, walk for a few minutes, then gently stretch your body.
Stretching isn't just a pre-exercise practice. Stretching throughout the day helps keep your muscles and ligaments strong and flexible. Take some time every hour or two to do some full body stretches, and stretch any muscles that feel tight or sore.
A daily supplement formulated for joints can improve your pain and mobility. A joint supplement should contain glucosamine, which is known to reduce joint pain and stiffness, especially in people with osteoarthritis in the knees. Research shows that glucosamine even helps to repair cartilage.
Aging doesn't have to be painful. With a combination of exercise, healthy eating, and supplementation, you can keep your joints strong and healthy, plus reduce your joint pain and inflammation. Best of all, what keeps your joints healthy will benefit your overall health and wellbeing, too.
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