Oh, the aging process. There are few experiences in life as humbling as getting older. Most people experience a steady decline in flexibility, strength, endurance, and the other gifts of youthful bodies. But decrepitude is not inevitable. These simple solutions can help stave off certain forms of arthritis and help you stay mobile into your golden years.
1. Joint Mobility Exercises
We need to move our joints in their full range of motion to keep them healthy. Include mobility drills in your exercise routines. Stretch and move every joint, every day, even if just for a few minutes.
Gentle movement forms like Yoga, Pilates, and Qigong are great for increasing mobility in a sustainable, low-impact way. They also increase circulation and respiration, which keep the joints fed and lubricated.
Strength training is helpful for building strong muscles and dense bones. Strong muscles help protect and stabilize joints. Aerobic exercises can reduce swelling, and also increase circulation. And core strength work improves balance and coordination, so you are less likely to fall or depend on your back to do the work.
Always start slowly and give your joints a chance to warm up. Be sure your body feels very warm before engaging in strength training or anything that uses your full range of motion. If your joints are already in decline, you may wish to avoid high-impact activities like jumping.
It is important to work with proper form to prevent injuries and avoid unnecessary joint stress. If you have never learned proper exercise form, work with a qualified personal trainer to learn the right ways to exercise for your body.
2. Essential Fatty Acids, Vitamins, and Minerals
Joints need to be fed particular nutrients to stay supple. They really like anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fatty acids, such as those found in chia seeds, flax seeds, and dark leafy greens. To get enough of the most important omega-3s to make a difference, consider supplementing with a high EPA/DHA omega-3 supplement.
Joints also need calcium to stay strong, vitamin D to metabolize the calcium as well as vitamin C and iron. Another reason to eat lots of dark green vegetables and enjoy sunlight.
3. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation takes a huge toil on our joints. Inflammation is an immune system response where the body basically attacks itself. When it becomes chronic, inflammation can cause painful, swollen joints and reduce mobility.
Reduce inflammation by getting those omega-3s, and avoiding inflammatory foods and environmental toxins. Sugar, processed grains, excess salt, acid-forming foods (red meat, dairy), and certain oils (soy, canola, sesame, and sunflower) contribute to inflammation.
4. Reach and Maintain a Healthy Weight
Our joints bear the weight of the body. And we tend to gain weight as we age if we do not remain very active. Each pound gained translates to four times as much stress put on our knees.
Do your best to keep your weight in the healthy/normal range for your age, height, and gender. Exercise, diet, sleeping, and other lifestyle habits all play a part in maintaining a healthy weight as we get older. That extra little bit of effort to eat healthfully is totally worth it if it means you are still able to walk comfortably in ten years.
5. Practice Good Posture
Uneven or poor posture puts a lot of stress on the joints. To keep the joints healthy, strive to stand and sit upright, with the head and shoulders directly over the pelvis and the spine as neutral as possible.
If you work on a computer, set up your workstation to support good posture. This means your upper body should be about two feet from your monitor, and the screen should be in a direct line with your eyes when your head is in a neutral position. The keyboard should be placed so that you can have your wrists relaxed on a wrist rest and elbows at a 90 degree angle.
Avoid slouching on couches, working with your computer on your lap, wearing high heels, or anything else that compromises your posture for long periods of time.
6. Keep Moving
Joint mobility is a use-it-or-lose-it gift. The more sedentary you are as you age, the more likely you are to develop stiff joints. Both sitting and standing for long periods of time can reduce mobility. If your work involves doing either, take frequent breaks doing the opposite action.
We want a good balance of movement and rest for the joints. Too much work and they get overused, too little can make them stiff. The key is to do some form of moderate movement every day, and more vigorous movement a few times per week if that is safe and healthy for your joints.
You do not need to act like an athlete; even walking briskly 30 minutes a day combined with some form of stretching can do the trick. Aquatic exercises are great for maintaining joint mobility and improving cardiovascular endurance while taking the stress off your joints. And getting massages are a wonderfully relaxing way to let someone else keep your joints supple and happy.
Aging is not always graceful, but it need not be horrible, either. Keep your body moving and nourish yourself with veggies and essential fatty acids, and you will be much more likely to be able to (slowly) dance your way into old age.