By Marilynn Preston
Healthy joints make for happy athletes. A bum knee, sore shoulder or painful wrist gets in the way of your best time – playing tennis, riding your bike, humiliating yourself at golf.
Research shows that more than 80 percent of all sports injuries involve joints. Ouch! The good news is that there’s a lot you can do, and pain relief medicine cannot, to keep your joints strong and healthy all year long.
Here are seven points about joints that will save you time, money, aggravation and dependence on painkillers:
1. LOSE WEIGHT
The more fat you lug around, the more stress to your joints. Every pound you lose equates to four pounds less pressure on your knees. Best advice? Don’t diet. Eat real food in modest amounts, lots of fruits and vegetables, limiting sugar and gluten.
This is just a fancy way of saying you shouldn’t focus on one sport or activity to get fit. By cross-training – doing a mix of sports you enjoy – you avoid the kind of single-sport repetitive motion that can cause joint problems over time. Cross-training helps you develop muscles in areas untouched by your primary sport, and strong muscles help stabilize and protect your joints. If you’re uncertain about a good cross-training complement to your sport, do yoga. It’s an ancient and magnificent way to keep your joints strong, flexible and spacious.
Joints have juices, lubricating fluids that allow your joints to move with more ease and less stress. To activate those juices, start your exercise routine with a gentle 5-10-minute warm-up and gradually increase your effort. Another good way to self-lube is to drink water, water and more water.
4. STRENGTH TRAIN
Joints need protection. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments are designed to protect your joints. If they’re weak, they can’t do their job. It’s your job to get them strong and flexible, and the best way to do that is a well-designed, well-executed strength-training program that includes stretching. Get a trainer, read a book or take a class, but do something! If you do nothing, over time you will become weaker and weaker and – believe this – your joints will suffer.
5. GET BALANCED
About 55 percent of all joint injuries involve the knee. Balance exercises promote leg strength and stability and protect the knee. There are many wonderful standing poses in yoga, qi gong and tai chi that challenge your balance and help you improve it. So will working out with wobbly balance boards, rubbery half domes and exercise balls. Muscle imbalance also contributes to joint problems. Typically, it’s your back, side and rear leg muscles that are underdeveloped and overly tight. Yoga and qi gong, so different from traditional sports, help you create awareness of these areas and position you to bring them back into balance.
6. DON’T OVERDO IT
Joints need tender care. If you carelessly yank them around, overuse them or work them in ways they’re not intended to go, they will rebel. Trying to lift too much weight, for instance, is a very jerky thing to do. So is overtraining, doing too much, too often, on muscles and joints not ready for the stress and strain. Learn to listen to your body. Think about giving it a name: “Hi, Hal. Are you warmed up yet?” Understand the range of motion for joints (knees, for example, are supposed to hinge, not rotate). Be mindful about your movement and never push past joint pain.
7. FIGHT INFLAMMATION WITH FOOD
The anti-inflammatory diet is a well-documented way of eating that decreases disease-causing inflammation throughout the body, including the joints. It avoids foods that make inflammation worse – processed food, grain carbs, sugar – and emphasizes healthy fats, including olive oil and omega-3 foods like salmon, herring, sardines, flaxseed and walnuts. Antioxidants, such as vitamin C (in foods, not supplements), selenium and carotenes are part of the anti-inflammatory diet, and so are bioflavonoids (quercetin and anthocyanidins) found in onions, kale, leeks, blueberries and red and black grapes. Ginger and turmeric are two spices that also fight inflammation. Interested? Good! Stick with a smart eating plan and your joints will thank you.
Marilynn Preston – well-being coach, Emmy-winning producer – is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.