Think about the various movements your body makes in an average day. Everything you do — whether it’s going for a walk, standing in line at the post office, climbing the stairs, folding laundry, carrying a bag of groceries, or typing a quick email — is made possible (and easy) by healthy joints.
While it’s only natural to take easy movement and unrestricted mobility for granted, it’s also important to understand that your healthy, hard-working joints are susceptible to a wide range of painful injuries, wear-and-tear conditions, and biomechanical problems.
Find out how a balanced program of aerobic, muscle strengthening, and flexibility exercises can help keep your joints strong and fully functional today, tomorrow, and as you grow older.
Exercise and joint health
Stabilized by muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage, your moveable joints form the intersection and leverage point between two bones. Although each joint reflects a compromise between stability and range of motion — your hip joint is less mobile and more stable than your shoulder joint, which is more mobile and therefore less stable — all joints require balance to stay healthy and function normally.
Getting regular exercise can help you maintain that balance, as long as your routine isn’t one-dimensional. A well-rounded fitness program that emphasizes cross-training (strength exercises and flexibility training are just as important as your favorite cardio workout) can go a long way in helping you maintain strong joints that are just as stable as they are mobile.
A joint-friendly exercise program helps you tone, strengthen, and stretch the muscles and connective tissues surrounding your joints to relieve external pressure and promote natural lubrication within the joint itself. It also helps you reach and sustain a healthy body weight, so the load-bearing joints in your hips, knees, ankles, and feet aren’t overburdened.
Your joint-saving fitness plan
As an intricate, finely-tuned machine, your body requires a balanced maintenance approach in virtually every sense; that’s why your diet, the amount of sleep you get, your lifestyle habits, and your activity level can have such profound and far-reaching effects on your overall health and well-being.
Your joints are no different than the rest of your body — they require a balanced approach to stay strong, stable, mobile, and injury-free. You can achieve optimal balance with a joint-saving fitness plan that includes:
Also known as cardiovascular training, this form of exercise includes activities that get your heart rate up for a sustained period of time. Besides making your heart stronger and increasing your overall fitness level, cardio training promotes the kind of optimal blood and oxygen flow your joints require to stay well-lubricated and in good working order.
Walking is an excellent cardio exercise for people of all fitness levels, in that it requires little more than a pair of supportive shoes and you can adjust your intensity gradually as you get fitter. Whenever you have the chance, take your walk off-road — hiking across uneven terrain strengthens the smaller muscles involved in joint control and function, without overstressing your joints.
Other joint-friendly cardio workouts include biking, indoor cycling classes, swimming, water aerobics, and dance; if you have a gym membership, you can also get a great aerobic workout from low-impact cardio machines like the elliptical, stair climber, or rowing machine.
Resistance training keeps your muscles toned, and strong, toned muscles are what keep your joints stable. While you can strengthen your muscles through a traditional weight training program that incorporates resistance machines as well as free weights (dumbbells), you really don’t need more than your own body weight to get the job done.
Body weight exercises, which are done by moving or lifting your own weight against gravity, can help you strengthen every major muscle group in your body. And because this simple strategy doesn’t require special equipment and can easily be modified to any fitness level, it’s easy for just about everyone.
To learn proper form and technique before you begin, you may want to consider working with a personal trainer. Besides showing you how to tailor these exercises to your personal fitness level, they can also teach you how to make your workouts more challenging when you’re ready to advance.
Flexibility training, or stretching, is what keeps the strong muscles around your joints balanced and adaptable. When you make flexibility training your main workout, either by taking a regular yoga class or performing your own stretching routine at home a few times each week, you help your joints maintain their full range of motion.
Actively stretching the muscles around each joint decompresses the joint itself, making it more stable as well as more mobile. Like aerobic exercise and muscle strengthening, flexibility training is easy to modify to your own fitness level — if a certain stretch or yoga position places too much stress on a joint, simply ease off the movement or modify the pose to make it more comfortable.
To learn more about the many ways you can keep your joints strong and healthy for years to come, call your nearest Chicago Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine office today, or use the easy online tool to schedule a visit with Dr. Vasili Karas any time.