Remember when the Tin Man was rusted stuck and Dorothy used his oil can to free him in the Wizard of Oz? He let out a great sigh of relief as he began to move. Sometimes stiff, achy joints can make us feel like that! Thankfully, we're not made of metal and prone to rust, but our joints can get stiff – and they do need to be “oiled.”
Joints are the connection between two bones, which allow us to bend our elbows and knees, turn our heads, use our fingers and even wiggle our toes. The fluid (or oil) that lubricates our joints and reduces friction is called synovial fluid. This thick white fluid with an egg-like consistency, tends to decrease with age (darn that aging!), causing joint stiffness and conditions like osteoarthritis. Healthy joints with adequate synovial fluid move easily without friction or pain. The bottom line: Your joints need to stay lubricated if you want them to be flexible and less prone to pain, stiffness, and injury.
Eating for Joint Health
There are plenty of supplements on the market that can help improve joint function, such as glucosamine and chondroitin, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that these supplements, when used in conjunction with a healthy diet, can decrease joint pain and inflammation and ease stiffness. Notice the caveat about diet (you knew it wouldn't be as easy as popping a pill). Eating a healthy diet, high in a variety of nutrients, can help your body produce more synovial fluid and improve your overall health. Foods that are good for your joints include:
Dark, leafy vegetables
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, mackerel and flaxseeds
Curcumin, a compound found in the spice turmeric
High antioxidant foods, such as onions, garlic, green tea and berries
Nuts and seeds
Water, which keeps your joints and the rest of you well hydrated
In general, a diet high in fruits and vegetables, which have a high water content as well as vital nutrients, will benefit your joints – as well as your overall health.
Exercise Improves Synovial Fluid
Studies also show that exercise is your best weapon to combat stiff joints and keep you mobile. Exercise doesn’t increase the amount of synovial fluid you have, but it helps the fluid move more freely and get where it needs to go, and provides the substance with nutrients. In addition, exercise works to strengthen the joints along with the muscles surrounding them. And, since excess pounds are hard on your joints, exercise offers the extra benefit of helping you maintain a healthy weight.
The Best Exercise for Healthy Joints
Research suggests that aerobic exercise, which gets our heart rate up, can reduce joint swelling. However, pounding the pavement is not for everyone, and in some cases, may actually cause more joint pain. If your joints are already bothering you, try low-impact exercises such as walking, biking, or swimming. Water aerobics is especially easy on the joints. Stretching before and after exercise can also help reduce joint pain and stiffness and protect against injury.
Strength training or lifting weights can also strengthen your joints, as well as your muscles and bones. Some people think that lifting weights is hard on the joints, but that’s a misconception. When done properly (with lighter weights and good form), weightlifting can reduce joint pain by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint. When these muscles are strong they take undue pressure off the joint. (Remember, some soreness after working out can be expected, but any sharp or radiating pain is not normal.)
To avoid joint injuries when weightlifting:
Stretch before working out
Don’t overdo it
Rest as needed
Don’t rush it – go slowly and use proper form
Listen to your body to avoid using too much weight
No matter what form of exercise you choose, movement is the key. People who sit all day have a much higher risk for joint pain and stiffness. Remember to take frequent breaks at work to stretch or go for a walk. Even standing for a time is better than sitting still.
Elevate Your Exercises with PhysioBoard
For many people with joint pain or stiffness, stretching and exercising on the floor is difficult or impossible. Thankfully, you don’t have to stop doing beneficial exercises and stretches.
The PhysioBoard converts your bed into an effective exercise surface. It’s a rigid, yet lightweight board that can be easily placed on your bed for exercising and then removed and stored behind a door, in a closet or under a bed. It has a comfortable foam padding and a washable cover made of medical-grade fabric that is bacteria- and water-resistant.
Developed by a physical therapist, in conjunction with an engineer, the PhysioBoard can help you elevate your exercise routine and keep your joints healthy and strong!
Note: You should always talk to your healthcare provider before starting an exercise routine. If you have a lot of joint pain or limited movement, consider working with a physical therapist.