5 Things You Should Do for Healthy Joints

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

If your joints hurt, it can be challenging to meet your fitness goals: cardiovascular health, flexibility, balance and strength. To minimize and even prevent pain, try these strategies:

1. Eat right

“We use MyPlate and the UDA dietary guidelines to discuss an overall healthy eating pattern for the general public,” said Justine Anna Hays, dietitian with SNAP-Ed New York, based in Buffalo. “If an individual has specific dietary conditions or concerns, they should speak with their physician and dietitian.”

Following MyPlate or any other well-balanced eating plan will not reverse the effects of arthritis overnight; it certainly supports the effect of reducing inflammation and improving the chances of losing weight.

“Eating an anti-inflammatory diet and maintaining healthy weight are the best ways to manage joint health,” said Mary Jo Parker, registered dietitian and nutrition therapist in practice at Nutrition Services in Williamsville.

She encourages patients to eat a diet rich in vibrantly colored vegetables, including salad greens, as these are rich in antioxidants.

Vitamin C builds collagen and phytochemicals inherent to produce protect joints. Parker suggested foods like cherries, peppers, greens, tomatoes and citrus.

“Eat foods that are rich in omega 3 fatty acids, fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, walnuts and flax seeds,” Parker said.

Spices like turmeric or curcumin and herbs like rosemary and oregano are also beneficial.

While little research has proven their benefit, some people report anecdotally that they find relief taking supplements containing glucosamine, chondroitin, hyaluronic acid and/or methylsulfonylmethane, a chemical inherent in plants and animals.

Parker also said that adequate hydration is also important for joint health, as well as keeping bones strong through consuming sufficient calcium, magnesium and vitamin D-rich foods or supplements.

“Avoid pro-inflammatory foods like sugars, excess alcohol, saturated and trans fats, non-whole grains,” she added.

White bread, crackers and rice, pastries, cookies and white pasta are a few examples of foods to skip—or at least minimize.

2.Vary your cardio routine

Always engaging in high-impact activities and excessively practicing a sport or physical activity can mean joints will wear out too soon.

“Limit high-impact activities and over-use,” said Peter Obourn, an osteopathic physician specializing in sports medicine at URMC Orthopedics.

For example, instead of running five days a week, try water-based exercise, using an elliptical machine or biking. Obourn said that activities like yoga, Pilates and tai chi “offer high resistance, but not a lot of impact.”

When running, wear proper footwear and try to walk on soft surfaces.

“For those with active symptoms, we may refer to physical therapy to focus on a strong, stable healthy joints and reducing future injury by improving stability of a joint,” Obourn said.

3.Keep moving

It may seem sensible to stop exercising if you experience joint pain, but Obourn said that becoming sedentary will only make chronic joint pain worse.

“It increases stiffness and disease and contribute to further morbidity like increasing weight,” he added.

Of course, acute pain from an injury should be treated and the care provider will likely recommend rest. Providers tell most people with chronic joint pain from arthritis to continue exercising in a safe fashion.

4.Don’t smoke

“Smoking increases inflammation and makes your pain worse,” Obourn said.  

Cessation is worth the effort for many other health benefits too.

5.Lose weight

“Putting extra weight on joints stresses them and increases inflammation,” Obourn said. 

He encourages patients to lose pounds for overall health and to make life easier for their joints.