Muscle mass and fat seem to get all the attention when most people discuss their fitness goals, but if you want to stay active long-term, you can benefit from giving an equal amount of attention to your joints.
Your joints allow you to move and bend at will. Unfortunately, their flexible nature can also lead to strain, pain, and inflammation if you don’t take good care of them.
In this article, we’ll talk about some ways to naturally improve your joint health and keep them strong and mobile!
Why Your Joint Health Is So Important
Joints are the places in your body where two bones meet. While there are a few different kinds of joints, the purpose of many of them is to allow you to move and flex your muscles and limbs.
Unfortunately, joints can become very painful if they aren’t healthy. At your joints, your bones are covered by a tissue called cartilage that cushions those bones and prevents friction during movement.
Over time or due to certain health conditions, cartilage can wear down or become inflamed, leading to joint pain.
Your bones are protected by a fluid called synovial fluid, which provides lubrication at the joints. If there is less fluid to protect your bones, this can also lead to pain and irritation.
Risk factors for joint problems
You may be more at risk for joint problems if you are:
1. Post-menopausal: During menopause, you experience a decrease in estrogen, a hormone that is best known for its role in your reproductive cycle. However, an estrogen deficiency can also affect your bone health, making you more at risk for bone and joint problems like osteoporosis.
2. Older: Besides menopause, people who are older are generally more at risk for joint and bone problems, due to general decreases in physical activity and muscle mass, reduced flexibility, and overall wear-and-tear over the years.
3. A person with autoimmune issues: Some joint problems, like rheumatoid arthritis, are autoimmune problems. In these cases, your immune system attacks its own cells, leading to inflammation and pain.
4. Overweight or obese: Carrying excess weight can be bad for your joint health since it puts more pressure on your joints and bones.
5. A person with previous joint injuries: Finally, you may be more at risk for joint problems like osteoarthritis if you have had a previous joint injury.
How to Improve Your Joint Health Naturally
Dealing with joint pain can be painful and, in some cases, even debilitating.
However, you can combat your risk of joint issues by making certain lifestyle changes.
Improve your body composition
If you are overweight or obese, improving your body composition is one of the best things that you can do to support your joint health.
Carrying excess weight can put extra pressure on your joints, leading to more pain from wear-and-tear.
Case in point: one study found that fat mass was positively and significantly associated with knee osteoarthritis in post-menopausal women.
However, there’s more to this recommendation than just losing weight in general. For the best results, you should also focus on building muscle!
The more lean muscle mass you have on your body, the more support your bones and joints have.
Additionally, research indicates that fat mass may be associated with inflammation and metabolic syndrome, which is linked to knee osteoarthritis.
So, when planning how to change your body composition to improve your joint health, you should have a two-pronged goal: to lose body fat and build muscle.
To lose body fat, you’ll need to be in a calorie deficit (in other words, burning more calories than you eat per day).
Start by increasing your physical activity in general, then focus on reducing portion sizes to stay in a calorie deficit. To build muscle, make sure to incorporate resistance training exercises like weight lifting into your workout routine.
If you’re new to weight training, make sure to work with a knowledgeable friend or personal trainer to make sure you’re doing workouts with the right form, which will minimize your risk of injury.
Stretch and do mobility training
If there’s just one kind of gentle, low-impact exercise you should be doing to improve your joints, it’s stretching!
Studies have suggested that stretching alone can significantly reduce pain in subjects with knee osteoarthritis.
If you’re dealing with achy, painful joints, carve out at least ten minutes every day to stretch, especially if you’re doing other exercises like weight training or walking.
In addition to stretching, you might also consider adding mobility training to your workout routine.
Mobility training is a low-impact exercise that works directly on your joints to improve their range of motion.
Start by working through some gentle yoga poses or finding a personal trainer who specializes in mobility so they can help walk you through these dynamic movements.
Focus on hydration
Drinking enough water is crucial for just about everyone, but it’s especially important if you’re suffering from joint pain.
Cartilage, that tissue that cushions your bones where they meet at your joints, is made primarily of water. Some studies have suggested that dehydration may lead to flare-ups of joint problems like gout.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that women and men consume roughly 2.7 liters (91 ounces) and 3.7 liters (125 oz), respectively, of fluid a day. That sounds like a lot of water, but these fluid recommendations include intake from food and beverages. In fact, food is estimated to contribute to 20% of our fluid intake alone!
As a general guideline, aim to drink at least 8 cups of water every day to keep your joints cushioned and lubricated.
If you tend to have a hard time staying properly hydrated, try carrying around a water bottle to remind yourself to take a swig regularly or setting reminder alarms on your phone at regular intervals.
Add omega-3s to your diet
Omega-3s are healthy fatty acids with anti-inflammatory properties. As a result, they are a great tool to include in your dietary arsenal if you are dealing with inflammatory joint conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies have indicated that omega-3 fatty acids may help improve symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis by reducing the amount of swollen and/or tender joints.
Omega-3s can be found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and herring. You can also increase your intake of plant-based omega-3s by eating foods like chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds.
Additionally, you might consider taking an omega-3 supplement like fish oil, but make sure to talk to your doctor first to determine the correct dosage for your needs.
Move every day
Joints can become achy and stiff without regular physical activity, which is why prioritizing movement is one of the best ways to combat joint pain.
People with osteoarthritis have seen improvements in pain, physical function, and overall quality of life with regular exercise.
Make it a point to schedule more movement into your routine every day, whether that means hitting the gym or biking through your favorite parks.
If you’re concerned about experiencing pain during your exercise, consider doing low-impact workouts like swimming and walking instead.
These types of exercise can keep you mobile and active without directly aggravating your joints in the way that higher-impact movements could.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
Omega-3s aren’t the only foods you can eat to fight inflammation and joint pain!
A wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods contain natural anti-inflammatory agents, which are thought to fight inflammation in the body.
Aim to eat more berries, leafy greens, olive oil, ginger, and green tea to maximize your intake of anti-inflammatory agents.
You can also add other anti-inflammatory foods into your diet to help with joint issues, such as turmeric.
Some studies have even compared turmeric to anti-inflammatory medications NSAIDs for knee pain!
Improve your posture
Finally, your joints may also benefit from working on your posture. Poor posture can throw off the alignment of your bones and joints, leading to extra strain and pain.
Good posture starts with your core muscles, which are the muscles in your abdomen and hips that support your spine.
Try adding core workouts to your exercise routine to help better support your bones and joints.
Some exercises that may help improve posture and alleviate pain include stretching, hip exercises, and strengthening exercises that target the abdominal muscles.
Additionally, you might consider improving your workspace if your poor posture stems from spending hours at your desk for work.
You can improve your office set-up by experimenting with ergonomic chairs, various desk heights, or even a standing desk, which can help reduce the slouching and strain that come from improper and extended sitting.
Your joints are such an important part of your anatomy, and you can really feel their impact if they are not at their best health.
By incorporating a variety of lifestyle changes into your routine, you can extend the life of these essential structural components of your body, so you can stay happy, healthy, and moving freely!