Bone and Joint Health National Awareness Week is here, and it’s a good time to think about how to take care of your bones and joints! It is never too late to start regardless of your age. These steps will guide you on the road to building healthy bones and joints to support you throughout your life. Always consult with your physician before starting any exercise program.
Step one: Watch your weight. Keeping your weight within a healthy range is one of the best things you can do for your joints. Weight-bearing joints, such as your knees, hip and back, have to support your body weight so the more you weigh, the more work they have to do. Research has shown that with every pound gained, a person puts four times more stress on their knees.
Step two: Exercise. Being a couch potato or staying glued to the computer all day increases your risk for joint pain and stiffness. Weight-bearing exercises can help keep your bones healthy. High impact activities like dancing, jogging or running are great, but if you have frail bones or a history of falls, low-impact exercise like walking are also beneficial.
Step three: Build muscle. Strong muscles support your joints; if you don’t have enough muscle, your joints can get overloaded. Muscle strengthening exercises also help to support your bones and decrease the risk of falls and broken bones. Examples include lifting weights, using elastic bands, using weight machines, lifting your own body weight and functional movements such as standing, getting up from a chair or walking up the stairs.
Step four: Help your joints and bones with a strong core. Make sure that your exercise routine includes activities that strengthen your abdominals (core muscles). Stronger abdominals and back muscles help keep your balance and prevent falls that can damage your joints and bones.
Step five: Know your limits for the sake of your bones and joints! Yoga and pilates can improve strength, balance and flexibility, but some positions may not be safe for people who have frail bones or osteoporosis. For example, exercises that have you bend forward may increase the risk of compressing a bone in your spine. Certain exercises and activities might be too tough for your joints to handle at first. Modify exercises that cause pain in your joints. Listen to your body, and reach out to a physical therapist to learn the difference between good muscle building pain and bad pain.
Step six: Perfect your posture for healthy bones and joints. Exercises that improve your posture and reduce rounded shoulders can help to decrease the chance of breaking a bone, especially in your spine. Slouching is not good for your joints either. Standing and sitting straight help to protect your joints from your neck to your knees. When lifting and carrying, posture is also important for both your joints and bones.
Step seven: Eating right helps to nourish your joints and bones. Recent research indicates that a diet that contains the right amount of vitamin D and calcium is important for bone and joint health. Seek the help of a registered dietitian, nutritionist or your physician to find out the proper amount of vitamin D and calcium and the ways that you can get them.
No matter which step your choose to start with, your body will thank you in the long run!
Anna Ribaudo is a doctor of physical therapy at the Integrative Care Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She completed her doctorate degrees at New York Institute of Technology in 2003 and recently completed an orthopedic residency at Hospital for Special Surgery.