The older we get, or the more we exercise, the more wear and tear our joints experience. Unfortunately, it’s a simple fact of life. As a result, as we age or increase our activity levels which many of us currently are, we may be feeling pain, tenderness or stiffness in our joints. This is especially true for those we use most - our hands, hips and knees, for example.
Thankfully, there are things we can do to reverse the damage and reduce the symptoms of joint pain without resorting to medication. Here, we look at the three main ways you can help keep your joints naturally strong, stable, and supple.
Maintain A Healthy Weight
One of the biggest causes of joint damage is excess weight. Research shows that for every additional pound in weight, a person puts up to four times the stress on their knees. Which means, one of the best things we can do to reduce joint pain is to lose weight, ideally through a combination of diet and exercise to ensure we are a healthy weight.
While exercising might be the last thing on your mind when you’re in pain, it can have a positive effect on our joints. This is because it helps reduce inflammation in the connective tissue, ligaments and tendons surrounding the joints; it’s the inflammation that causes the pain, not the joint itself. Not only that, but exercise also helps build muscle, supporting the joints and making them less susceptible to injury.
Saying this, you don’t want to put too much pressure on joints which are painful or tender. Therefore, stick to low to moderate impact exercises, which won’t put unwanted stress on the tissue. Examples of low impact exercises include yoga, swimming and cycling (check out the NHS website for more). Remember, too, when it comes to exercise, that it’s okay to start small. Go for a short walk, for example, before building up the pace and distance. What’s important is to make sure you move every day for at least twenty minutes to improve flexibility and mobility.
Eat A Well-Balanced Diet
Diet has a big impact on our joint health. Ideally, your diet should include plenty of foods rich in calcium, vitamin D and iron, all of which help build strong bones and muscles (which in turn lead to healthier joints). Examples include milk, including plant-based milk, yoghurt, lean white meats, oily fish, eggs, beans, pulses and nuts as well as vegetables such as kale and broccoli. If you think you’re deficient in any of these, supplements are a good addition to your diet.
At the same time, you should avoid foods shown (or thought) to have a negative impact on joint health. For example, fizzy drinks, or those high in sugar, cause inflammation (with clinical trials showing they increase the risk of gout), as can alcohol and smoking. The latter two can affect your sleep, which is the most effective way of allowing our bodies to recover.
Finally, it’s best to eat refined carbohydrates, red meat and fried food in moderation too, all of which can increase the risk of inflammation in the joints. Examples of refined carbohydrates include white bread, pasta, cakes and cookies. Choosing whole wheat options is always best, or food that has been enriched (which basically means the nutrients that were stripped out have been added back in, to a degree).
A Final Thought On Inflammation
We’ve talked a lot in this article about inflammation, which is one of the main causes of joint pain, stiffness and tenderness. However, we would be remiss to not touch on the fact that not all inflammation is bad, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two. The type of inflammation we want to help you avoid is the bad type. Also known as chronic inflammation, it can be long-lasting and impact your ability to live life to the fullest.
However, good inflammation (also known as acute inflammation) is a sign your body is healing. A good example of this is if you twist your ankle. When you do, it becomes swollen. This is your body’s way of protecting your ankle while it heals, this process happens on a smaller scale all the time after exercise.