As the seasons change and the weather becomes less suitable for heading out, we find ourselves indoors more often. For some, that means less physical activity. For others, it’s a call to hit the gym, hard. Any change in activity makes us more susceptible to joint- and bone-related issues. Here are eight tips for preventing damage, reducing pain, and improving your general quality of life and health.
Exercise to protect and strengthen your joints. Overall, by strengthening muscles and aiding in weight loss, exercise can reduce the strain on joints. Squats and lunges, as well as certain exercises with weights, can help strengthen quadriceps and reduce the pressure on your knees. Weight-bearing exercise such as walking also helps maintain bone density, no matter what your age. However, note that running and other high-intensity exercises over prolonged periods, can damage joints and ligaments, leading to inflammation, pain and, eventually, arthritis.
Stretch and warm up prior to exercising. Our bodies need to be warmed up in order to work properly and avoid excess injuries. This allows our tendons to flex and become more supple, helps the muscles to loosen up and work better, and gets the blood flowing through our body. Bodybuilding and weight lifting-related joint pain problems can be caused by tendonitis, an inflammation or irritation of the tendons. This type of joint pain can be reduced or eliminated by stretching and warming up tendons before working them too hard. This makes them more flexible and able to handle the added weight or exercise loads we put on them.
Change exercises. Both avid and occasional exercisers should consider changing the type of exercise they do. Impact-style exercising, such as step aerobics or kick boxing, is harder on the joints than exercises such as yoga and water-based workouts.
Don’t over-exercise. Regardless of the type of exercise we do, or how heavy the workout, our bodies need time to repair. Someone who does hours of intense exercising daily will have more problems with chronic joint pain than someone who allows their body to recuperate. Our muscles, tendons and ligaments all need time to rest and repair after a hard workout. That’s what causes them to strengthen over time.
Lose weight. Extra body weight creates strain on our joints, particularly the knee joints. Losing as little as 3-5 kgs of body weight can help reduce pain, and improve breathing and circulation.
Evaluate your shoes. Proper footwear is important for bone and joint health. Women who wear high-heeled shoes have seven to ten times greater chance of developing joint pain and problems. It’s a good idea to vary the heel height of the shoes. For those who like high heels, heels lower than three inches are best for bone and joint health. It’s also important that all shoes, including tennis and athletic shoes, fit properly. Toes need room and there should be good arch support. Some sort of cushion, especially under the ball and heel areas of the feet, is also recommended.
Change positions. Sitting or standing all day, day after day, can cause joint pain. We need to vary our routines to give both our bodies and joints variety and rest periods. Getting up and moving around is helpful to break up a routine and keep the body in shape.
Stop smoking. People who smoke tend to have lower bone density and higher risk of fractures than those who don’t, possibly related to lower calcium absorption and the production of hormones such as estrogen and testosterone which affect bone growth and strength.