When we think about working out, our muscles are usually top of mind. After all, most of our fitness goals seem to surround our muscles: Add 20-kg. to my back squat. Improve my pulling strength. Improve my pushing strength. Etc.
We do much less thinking about our joints.
Probably because improving our ankle flexibility or our shoulder stability sounds much less glamorous than boasting a 15-kg. deadlift squat PR.
But then a joint injury happens, and suddenly building strength isn’t even an option…
It shouldn’t take an injury to start prioritizing joint health.
Joint health isn’t just concern for those with osteoarthritis or other degenerative joint diseases. We all should all be thinking about our joints—particularly how to keep those connections to our bones healthy as we age, so that we can continue to be active until we’re 85 years old.
So, how can we ensure that we’re doing everything we can to promote healthy joint aging?
Here are a few key tips …
Don’t sit around
If you already show up to workout three to five days a week, that’s a great start. Keeping muscles, bones and ligaments strong goes a long way in keeping your joints strong, too.
But don’t forget the rest of the day—when you’re not at the gym. Simply put, less movement means more stiffness. So don’t sit (or stand) for too long in the same position. Whether you’re working at a desk or watching Netflix, get up and move around periodically. Your joints will reward you with less stiffness.
Again, this goes without saying, but poor form—things like extending your spine during a shoulder press, or deadlifting or squatting with your knees caving in—can lead to joint injuries.
So the next time you’re tempted to add more weight to a bar than you might be able to handle with perfect form, stop and think about your joint health.
Generally speaking, poor posture is not good for your joints. Ensuring good posture throughout the day (standing and sitting up straight) will go a long way to keeping your joints feeling strong.
Avoid slouching at all costs! If you spend a lot of time at a desk, make a mental note to correct your posture throughout the day. You can even set a reminder on your phone…
How much better do you feel lifting or conditioning when you’re properly warmed up? Best case scenario, show up 15 to 20 minutes before your personal training session or class and prep the joints that will be most taxed that day.
If you’re not sure what to do, talk to your coach and come up with a warm-up plan that gets you best ready for training.
Core is key
A strong core goes a long way in preventing injuries. Adding some core accessory work—focusing on your abs, low back, hamstrings and glutes—to the end of your training sessions is a good idea. Again, if you’re not sure what to do, ask your coach for a core training plan.
This one might go without saying, but if you’re overweight, losing weight might be the most important thing you can do for your joints. Carrying around extra weight is hard on your knees, hips and back, which support that excess weight.
Even losing a few pounds can make a difference, as pressure is reduced from those weight-bearing joints, and your risk of injury decreases.
Diet, diet, diet
While diet is always controversial, science says food that helps reduce inflammation goes a long way in helping joint health. Foods like Omega-3 rich fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna) or fish oil supplements, leafy free vegetables, such as spinach and kale, whole grains, such as brown rice, and nuts, such as almonds, walnuts and pistachios, are all good for reducing inflammation and promoting joint health.
When it comes to joints, the old adage holds true: ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’
In other words, don’t wait until you’re injured to start thinking about your joints.