Growing Older with Healthy Joints
Truly, it should be on the list of words that do not translate between generations. Mention joint to a young person and his face might light up; his grandparent, on the other hand, likely would grimace in pain and grab his knee or shoulder. For the young generation, joint suggests pleasure, but for older adults it too often means pain. Does it have to be this way?
Perhaps you’ve heard the joke about the man who walks into his doctor’s office. The doctor asks, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s my left knee,” the patient answers. “It hurts when I walk.”
“Well, you’re 70,” says the doctor. “That’s what happens as you get older.”
“But doc,” the patient exclaims, “my right knee is the same age, and it feels fine!”
Is joint pain a natural consequence of aging?
Some doctors say that it is natural to experience “nuisance pain” as we age. This pain is from physical wear and tear as the cartilage that cushions our joints, and the disks that cushion the vertebrae in the spine, deteriorate over time. But arthritis is not nuisance pain; it is chronic pain from inflammation of the joints, often accompanied by swelling, stiffness and fatigue. Doctors seem to agree that this kind of joint pain is neither natural nor inevitable as we grow older.
In fact, arthritis afflicts all age groups. According to the Arthritis Foundation, almost 300,000 babies and children in the US have arthritis or a rheumatic condition. The CDC says that 23 percent of all adults in the US suffer from arthritis and 60 percent of these adults are of working age (18 to 64 years).
So, if arthritis affects all age groups—from the cradle to the grave—it is not a disease you should expect to get or accept just because you are growing old. Even though age increases your risk of getting arthritis, other factors such as “joint injury, obesity, genetics, and anatomical factors that affect joint mechanics” determine which joints are affected and the severity of the disease. In other words, you can reduce your risk of suffering from joint pain as you age.
If you keep your joints healthy throughout your life, you would be able to run, walk, jump, play sports, and do the other things you like to do at a pace and in a manner that does not bring you pain or cause you injury.
How to Keep Your Joints Healthy
Here are five main ways you can keep your joints healthy throughout your life. If you are already affected by arthritis, these approaches will not cure you, but they will help you effectively manage your pain so that you can continue to do the things you love.
1. Eat right
I know you’ve heard it time and again, that you should eat a healthy, balanced diet. And you’ve been given lots of advice on what makes a healthy diet. There are so many good things to eat, it might be more helpful for you to know the foods you should avoid, or eat only in moderation, so that you can enjoy healthy joints. Avoid foods that trigger the release of cytokines and you would reduce the opportunities for inflammation in your joints. Cytokines are chemical messengers that cause inflammation in the body. What are the foods that trigger cytokines?
- processed foods
- refined carbohydrates
- foods that are high in Omega-6 fatty acids, g. tilapia and catfish
Here is an encouraging story about how an arthritis sufferer was able to reverse her symptoms by changing her diet.
2. Get moving
Remember: it’s natural to have some nuisance pain as you age. But if you stop moving your arm, leg, shoulder or back to avoid that pain, you are hurting yourself in the long-run. Inactivity reduces the supply of blood to the affected area, and arthritis will set in when the blood supply to joints, muscles and surrounding structures is reduced. Therefore, it is essential to remain or become active as you age. Do not interpret nuisance pain as a signal to stop moving. Do not accept chronic joint pain as a part of aging. Keep moving. Get moving.
It is best to have a lifestyle that encourages movement. So reduce the amount of time you sit at a desk or in front of a television set. WebMD recommends that you “change positions frequently. Take frequent breaks at work and stretch or go for a short walk. If you can’t leave the office, try taking phone calls while standing.”
You should also participate in specific exercises:
Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, bicycling and dancing. Why? These types of exercises help to keep your joints healthy without wearing them down.
Exercises that strengthen your core—chest, back and abdomen. Why? “Stronger abs and back muscles help you keep your balance and prevent falls that can damage your joints.”
Exercises that strengthen your muscles. Why? “Strong muscles support your joints. If you don’t have enough muscle, your joints take a pounding, especially your spine, hips, and knees, which must support your entire body weight.”
Pilates, Tai chi and qigong may be a good fitness program to help you achieve all these exercise goals.
3. Make supplements a part of your diet
If you are eating a healthy, balanced diet, you should not need to take vitamin supplements. However, there are two supplements you might want to add to your diet: vitamin D and glucosamine.
Vitamin D is needed for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. If you are “not often exposed to the sun…are housebound, are in an institution such as a care home, or usually wear clothes that cover up most of [your] skin when outdoors,” you should speak with your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Glucosamine is a “natural compound found in cartilage—the tough tissue that cushions joints.” The supplement is made from the shells of shellfish or in a lab. The glucosamine supplements in sulphate and hydrochloride forms are known to provide some relief for people suffering from osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis respectively. Cosamin DS, which includes glucosamine HCL and chondroitin sulfate, works at the cellular level to inhibit enzymes that break down cartilage. As a result, the supplement has proven to be very effective.
There are also some spices that you can add to your foods to reduce pain-causing inflammation. The most popular anti-inflammatory spices are Ginger, Curcumin, and Turmeric.
4. Maintain your ideal weight
It is very important for you to remain within your ideal weight throughout your life.
Your body is mounted on a musculoskeletal system that includes “the bones of the skeleton and the cartilages, ligaments, and other connective tissue that stabilize or connect the bones.” The purpose of this system is “to support the weight of the body…and to maintain the body’s position and to produce controlled, precise movements. Without the skeleton to pull against, contracting (tightened) muscle fibers could not make us sit, stand, walk, or run.”
When you have excess weight, you are placing more weight on your skeletal frame than it is designed to support. This combined weight places stress on your joints—especially in your hips, knees, and feet—and adds to the wear and tear that can cause arthritis as you grow older.
If you want healthy joints as you age, do not keep more weight on your frame than it was genetically designed to bear.
5. Love yourself
Yes, love yourself. Loving yourself is about adopting a mindset that makes positive and healthy lifestyle choices.
Decide that you will love yourself rather than merely use yourself to get the things you love. When you love yourself, you eat foods that help your body remain healthy, and you develop and maintain a lifestyle that keeps you active and within your ideal weight.
Perhaps you’re not aware of the “hate” you direct toward that leg, arm or shoulder that’s been hurting you. Love yourself by directing some loving thoughts instead toward those areas of your body. Those thoughts may activate healing in that area of your body. This approach is similar to an effective technique in bodybuilding called the mind-muscle connection, which is used to activate a muscle even before lifting begins by focusing on that muscle. So, go ahead and love that joint, and remind your body that it is fearfully and wonderfully made to heal itself.
Love yourself by getting sufficient quality sleep. Sleep is an investment in your health. “Invest in yourself and recognize your responsibility – and ability – to take good care of yourself….No one can take care of you better than you can.”
Whew! What a relief to know that you don’t have to experience joint pain as you age, because arthritis is not an inevitable consequence of growing older. You can focus now on protecting your joints so that they are healthy as you age. No excuses. “What we need to do,” says Dr. Grant Cooper, “is to change the mindset of how we look at the body as we get older and to recognize that if we do a good job of keeping our muscles strong and limber and help the muscles take the pressure off the joints and the back, then we can really do a lot to prevent these kinds of wear and tear types of changes as we get a little bit older. And when the pain does arise, and we do develop knee pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, back pain, et cetera, we have good treatments to be able to take away that pain, and then we need to get hooked back in with the right kinds of exercise and the best way to prevent that pain is to stay strong and stay flexible, and that’s how we stay healthy going in to the future.”
Let’s go into the future with the right mindset, eating healthily, being active, and loving ourselves.