We all have joints. They help us move every day. But if you are like me, you do not pay much attention to them until they hurt. According to the Orthopaedic Institute’s A Beginner’s Guide to Joint Health, 7 out of 10 Americans over the age of 34 experience occasional joint stiffness, and 62% of people have concerns about their joint health.
This article will explain some basics and provide four easy tips on how to improve joint health.
First, some joint health basics.
What exactly is a joint? A joint is where two or more bones are joined together. Some joints are rigid, like the joints between the bones in your skull. Others are movable, like the joints in your knees, hips, and shoulders.
Many joints have cartilage on the ends of the bones where they come together. Cartilage is a strong and flexible tissue made up of water and matrix comprised of collagens, proteoglycans, and non-collagenous proteins. It helps your bones glide over each other. Cartilage can also protect bones by preventing them from rubbing against each other.
As we get older, it is common for our joints to wear down. As they wear down, we may experience conditions like arthritis.
Arthritis is a term used often to refer to any disorder that affects the joints. You might think arthritis affects only older people, as the prevalence does increase with age. However, arthritis can affect people of all ages. Three out of every five arthritis patients are younger than 65 years of age.
Types of Arthritis
Three main types of arthritis that can affect the joints.
- Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. With osteoarthritis, the joints’ surface cartilage breaks down and wears away, allowing the bones to rub together. With osteoarthritis the surface cartilage in the joints breaks down and wears away, allowing the bones to rub together. This causes pain, swelling, and loss of motion in the joint. It can occur in any joint but most commonly occurs in the knees, hips, lower back and neck, small joints of the fingers, and the bases of the thumb and big toe.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the joints’ tissues and causes inflammation. This inflammation results in pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints.
- Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. This build-up of uric acid can form needle-like crystals in a joint and cause sudden, sharp pain, tenderness, redness, warmth, and swelling in the joint. Gout most commonly affects the big toe.
Tips for How to Improve Joint Health
Here are four easy tips on how to improve joint health and keep you doing all the things you love to do:
1. Be physically active every day.
Moving every day is one of the most important things you can do to keep your joints healthy. As the saying goes, “use it or lose it.”
Being active every day keeps the muscles around the joints strong and working the way they should. If you are not currently active, start slowly, and aim for at least 10 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per day, five days a week. Your long-term goal should be to be active for 30 minutes most days of the week.
Try to be consistent with your exercise, rather than saving up the time and being a “weekend warrior”. Doing too much at one time may result in overdoing it and can cause damage to your joints.
Also, consider going for a walk outside to ensure you get your daily dose of vitamin D. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays several important roles in our bodies. It helps us absorb calcium, which aids in the development and maintenance of strong bones. Without enough vitamin D, bones can become thin and brittle, raising the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is quite common among individuals with joint concerns such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. One study found that people with rheumatoid arthritis with adequate vitamin D blood levels had less difficulty performing daily tasks than individuals who were vitamin D deficient. So, get your daily dose of vitamin D today by exposing your skin to sunlight while being physically active.
2. Eat a healthful diet.
Researchers are still studying the optimal diet for joint health, and they have yet to identify one particular “best diet.” Eating a balanced diet that contains whole grains, low-fat dairy foods, lean meats, and plenty of vegetables and fruits can help provide a variety of nutrients for overall good health.
Some experts recommend incorporating the following foods for joint health into your diet:
- Eat 3-4 ounces of omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish twice a week. Omega-3-rich fish sources include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that your body does not produce on its own, therefore, you must consume them in food. There are three types of omega-3s, but EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in fatty fish have been the most studied. Studies have found a diet high in fish has been associated with a lower risk of certain joint conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
- Aim to eat nine or more servings of vegetables and fruits every day. The antioxidants in fruits and veggies can help maintain healthy joints. Broccoli, spinach, kale, oranges, cherries, blueberries, and limes are all great choices! Remember the more colorful the vegetable or fruit, the more antioxidants it will contain.
- Drink a cup or two of green tea daily! Green tea contains a compound called epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), and research has shown that drinking green tea may reduce inflammation and joint damage.
- Eat a small handful of nuts and seeds. Studies suggest that nuts and seeds contain phytoflavonoids that have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce the risk of development and progression of osteoarthritis.
- Choose whole grains. Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pastas contain selenium, and studies suggest selenium levels can be low in some people with rheumatoid arthritis.
- Use olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle over salads or as an alternative to other cooking oils and butter. Research suggests that olive oil offers anti-inflammatory benefits and may help with joint health.
- Drink water! Water is the key to well-lubricated joints. All cells in the body, from the brain to muscle to cartilage, function better when properly hydrated. One simple way to increase your water intake is to drink a tall glass of water every hour during the day.
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, even being just 10 pounds overweight can put an extra 30 to 60 pounds of pressure on your joints! A modest weight loss (5–10% of your body weight), achieved by eating a healthful diet, and becoming more physically active, can improve your joint health by relieving pain and improving joint function.
4. Add a Dash of Turmeric to Your Life.
Turmeric is a spice common in Asian food that comes from the root of the turmeric plant. One of the active ingredients in turmeric is curcumin, which has been shown to support overall health and wellness. Consider adding a teaspoon of ground turmeric to your soups and smoothies or add a curry meal to your weekly routine.
Here’s an easy recipe for a tasty Oven-Baked Turmeric Salmon
- 1 lb salmon, cut into 4 pieces
- 4 teaspoons turmeric
- 2 1/2 teaspoons cumin
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Parsley to garnish
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Mix turmeric and cumin in bowl. Once mixed, rubbed onto the salmon.
- Season salmon with salt and pepper.
- Place salmon, skin side down, on a non-stick baking sheet or in a non-stick pan with an oven-proof handle.
- Bake until salmon is cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Strong, flexible joints are essential for almost every single daily activity you do. Whether you are going for a walk, putting a book on a shelf, nodding your head yes, or standing up from a chair, you depend on your joints! Treat your joints well by eating a healthful diet, exercising daily, maintaining a healthy weight, and adding a little turmeric to your daily routine!
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