Our joints are the points of articulation. They’re where two bones meet and instead of crashing against each other, the joint lets them slide, spin, or roll, or — most frequently — a combination of the three. If our joints aren’t working, we may as well be in rigor mortis. While waning collagen production, injuries, and decades of movement can lead to wear-and-tear and joint damage later in life, you can be proactive at any age to mitigate the damage as much as possible. What’s good for joints is a blend of nutrition, exercise, and weight management.
Exercise for Joint Health
The first step to healthy joints is moving them. This can be as simple as rolling your shoulders while sitting at your desk, and standing up from said desk every hour or so. Not only can movement that interrupts long periods spent in single positions help you avoid joint stiffness, but it can also increase the mobility of your joints. And with more mobility comes better use of your muscles.
Think of the squat. It’s a fundamental movement to our daily lives, yet it requires numerous joints that all must have their full range of motion in order to perform the movement safely. If one joint in the chain, say the ankle, is stiff and tight, it can cause you to be unable to drive your knees forward. To counterbalance, you may find yourself leaning forward, placing more pressure on other parts of your body and recruiting the wrong muscles for the movement while neglecting the ones that are supposed to assist. This can lead to long-term problems for those performing functional tasks and immediate injury to a weightlifter squatting a heavy barbell.
If said weightlifter had the full range of motion, the oft-elusive “gainz” would come a lot easier due to allowing the muscles to work at their full capacity. Stretching the muscles themselves, as well as the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones, can also help to extend the joints’ range of motion.
Speaking of muscles, strengthening them is critical to keeping those joints healthy. That helps our joints tolerate the stress of our activities. If your joints are pain-free and have full range of motion, you may be able to meet your muscular strength needs by performing the standard multi-joint strength exercises like push-ups, pull-ups, squats and deadlifts. If you have a joint that is not functioning properly, a physical therapist may recommend exercises that specifically target the muscles surrounding that joint.
Nutrition for Joint Health
We tend to think of inflammatory foods as only inflaming our digestive system, but the foods we eat are used throughout the body and they can have a profound effect on joints. Inflammation is a crucial step to the body’s ability to heal itself from injury. That’s all it’s meant to be: a step in a process. The problem is when inflammation becomes chronic due to factors like diet. Many experts are now linking certain ingredients in foods to joint inflammation. These include known public health enemies like sugar, refined carbohydrates, trans fats found in packaged snacks and fast food, omega-6 fatty acids found in various seed and vegetable oils, and additives like aspartame and MSG.
Luckily, experts have deemed many delicious foods anti-inflammatory. Nuts, leafy greens, berries, oranges, and tomatoes are regulars on anti-inflammatory foods lists, as are spices like ginger, garlic, and turmeric. And, for all the inflammation that Omega 6-fatty acids giveth, Omega-3 fatty acids — found in coldwater fish, eggs, and flaxseed oil — taketh away. What’s good for joints from a nutrition standpoint is a diet of anti-inflammatory staples.
Our joints are surrounded by ligaments, the connective tissue that connects bones to bones, stabilizes the body, communicates with the nervous system (which controls movement), and prevents improper joint movement. Ligaments are primarily composed of everyone’s favorite structural protein, collagen, which is also a major component of the cartilage that provides a cushion on the articulating surfaces of our joints, as well as the actual joint bones. Cells in the connective tissue and bones produce collagen at a rate that slows as we age, which is of course, when our ligaments, cartilage, and bones need more of it.
Vitamin C is an essential substance for the enzymes to catalyze the reaction that bonds a hydrogen-oxygen compound to an animo acid that forms collagen. Without adequate Vitamin C, our cells cannot produce collagen. That’s why Vitamin C has become such a hot supplement in the skin care world, as collagen is key to firm skin. Since it’s the same structural protein that makes up the connective tissue that protects our joints, more people are discovering the benefits of Vitamin C for joint health.
The nutrient choline is also essential to this process as it breaks down to the amino acid glycine, which is a crucial component of collagen production. Egg yolks are rich in choline, as are the phospholipids that encapsulate our Lypo-Spheric™ Vitamin C. In a 2000 study, researchers found that Vitamin A treatment stimulated collagen synthesis in skin cells. That’s an easy nutrient to get in a whole bunch of orange foods like sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, mangoes and apricots.
Weight Management for Joint Health
If you have the diet and exercise down, this should be falling into line. And it’s the most critical factor in joint health as excess weight puts a massive toll on joints. Let’s take gout as an example. This painful, complex form of inflammatory arthritis has been historically known as the “disease of the kings.” Kings like Henry VIII, who was known for being just as gluttonous with food as he was with wives, suffered from this condition in his later years when a hunting injury sidelined him from his previous sporting pursuits. Gout flareups are triggered by an excess of uric acid. Extra weight makes the kidneys less efficient in removing uric acid than the aforementioned Henry was in removing wives.
Then there’s the day-to-day toll. The force on your knees when walking on level ground is 1.5 times your body weight, and 2–3 times when you’re walking on an incline or decline. According to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound of excess weight puts 4 extra pounds of pressure on the knees. So what’s good for joints? Having less “you” could be number one.
Why Improve Joint Health?
All the joints in our body are linked in what is called the kinetic chain. That phrase means exactly that it says. If a single link is broken, the whole chain suffers. Let’s say you’re Henry VIII. Because stepping down from the throne exerts the weight of your feast-loving bulk plus six wives (with all their heads still attached) on your knees, your body will compensate by taking the pressure off your knees that are taxed more than a bearded nobleman (yes, Henry the 8th imposed a graduated beard tax) and put it elsewhere. This is an altered movement pattern that can lead to overactive and underachieving muscles, which exacerbates the kinetic chain problems.
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, this can put you in what they call the “cumulative injury cycle,” which is also exactly what it sounds like.
What’s good for joints is an active lifestyle and conscious food choices. This includes exercising, building muscular strength, eating anti-inflammatory foods, and supplementing with nutrients like choline and Vitamin C that are critical to the processes that maintain healthy joints.
Doing what’s good for joints now can protect you in the future. Joint pain has a major effect on quality of life for older adults.