Joints undergo a lot of wear and tear in a life, especially if you’re an active individual. And while genetic factors certainly play a role in joint health, lifestyle is also key in keeping those joints in good working order.
Common Joint Issues in Women
Regardless of your activity level, every woman is prone to joint issues. Some of the most common woes involve the lower extremities. “Knees are probably the most common, followed by hips, ankles and shoulders,” says Antonia F. Chen, M.D., associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School and director of arthroplasty research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Why the knees? Chen blames it on women’s anatomy, namely the angles of the bones from the hips through the knees and down to the ankles.
Of course, there are hereditary issues, like rheumatoid arthritis, that can be difficult to prevent. But even arthritis comes with good news. “Arthritis is manageable and treatable and shouldn’t be feared,” says Sridhar Yalamanchili, PT, MSPT, physical therapist with Atlantic Spine Center in West Orange, New Jersey.
How to Keep Your Joints Healthy
So what should you be doing to keep those joints healthy and strong? Try these seven strategies:
1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
Food and supplements can directly impact joints, Chen says. When her patients eat an anti-inflammatory diet, they report that their joint pain is reduced. Think about foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and turmeric. And while many people tout supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate for joint health, the verdict is still out on how helpful they are.
2. Choose joint-friendly activities
When it comes to activity, it’s a double-edged sword. “Too much exercise can lead to joint overload, which can hurt the joints,” Chen says. On the flip side, though, weight-bearing exercises are important for maintaining joint health, and activities like using the elliptical and bike riding are better on the knees than activities like running, she says. Walking on soft, even surfaces like tracks also can be better on joints than walking on asphalt or concrete.
3. Pump some iron
You know strength training can help maintain bone density, but it also can strengthen tendons and muscles, which, along with ligaments, form the support system for your joints. “A stable support system reduces the stress on the joints during daily activities,” Yalamanchili says. For joint health, aim for two full-body strength workouts every week, focusing on compound exercises that use multiple muscle groups.
4. Get enough sleep
As crazy as this sounds, sleep really can impact your joints. “Poor sleep can result in less energy, which may discourage activity, leading to worse joint health,” Chen says. Yet painful joints can actually affect your sleep, leading to a vicious cycle. Bottom line? Getting enough sleep will help you maintain an active lifestyle, which will keep those joints healthy. The Sleep Foundation recommends logging seven to nine hours every night.
5. Don’t ignore joint pain
This should seem obvious, but there are women who will brush off their pain, following the adage of “walking it off.” Yet if joint pain is persistent, seek medical attention so that you prevent a worse injury, Chen advises.
6. Modify activities when necessary
If you are starting to have issues with a joint, look for ways to modify that activity versus quitting your exercise program, Yalamanchili says. For instance, if you’re doing high-impact activities and they’re starting to get the best of you, switch to low-impact activities or swap a strength-training exercise like a step-up for a lunge.
7. Stay active as you age
This is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your joints because motion really is lotion. “Joint health improves with appropriate cardio activity,” Chen says.