No matter your age, what seems to be merely a small ache could become arthritis – or worse – down the road, which is why it’s important to start taking care of your joints. You don’t need to become one of the more than 40 million Americans who suffer from arthritis and joint pain. While you may not be able to control a genetic trait, there are many actions you can take to protect your joints. Use these tips to protect your joints now and well into the future.
Get regular low-impact exercise
One of the best ways to protect your joints is regular exercise. Exercise generates blood flow to your joints, stimulating the body’s natural regeneration mechanisms. Regular exercise also strengthens the muscles surrounding your joints, preventing them from rubbing against one another and wearing down cartilage. One more bonus: exercise also helps you maintain your ideal body weight. When you weigh more, you put more stress on your joints, especially your hips, back, knees, and feet. Protecting your joints is just one more reason to consider losing weight if you are heavier than your ideal.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong exercises improve overall flexibility and strengthen the joints without putting too much strain on them. In my clinic I teach a simple 30-minute daily practice called “Eight Treasures Qi Gong,” which has been passed down through my family. It has been clinically shown to strengthen bones and joints and prevent arthritis. Best of all, it is far less stressful and strenuous than other types of physical exercises, and particularly emphasizes stretching and the strengthening of joints, tendons, and muscles.
In addition to Tai Chi, you can turn to water aerobics for a gentle physical activity. Water is, after all, the perfect cushion for joints and it provides resistance for a good cardiovascular workout. Find out if your local health club offers water exercise classes.
Listen to your body
Throughout the day, check in with your body. Is your “mouse” wrist bothering you? Repetitive stress on joints for long periods of time can accelerate the wear and tear that causes osteoarthritis. Make sure your space is ergonomically set up to be supportive for all your joints. Also, notice if you are overworking your joints. We are accustomed to pushing through the pain and thinking that we can achieve the same feats of endurance we did a decade ago. But keep in mind, pain after activity or exercise may indicate that you have exceeded your limits and overtaxed your joints.
Does your body tell you that you have been sitting too long? During your day, get up and take a short walk to decrease muscle and joint stiffness. There is a balance between under-using your joints and putting too much stress on them. Pay attention to what your body tells you, and you will be able to maintain an even balance between motion and rest.
Posture makes perfect
You don’t have to walk around with a book on your head, but if you value your joints, do make an effort to stand up straight. Over time, gravity will make sure that a habitual slump recurs up as joint problems. Good posture protects the joints in your neck, back, hips, and knees. Once you become used to standing and sitting up straight, your muscles will feel an overall ease in stress because they aren’t being constantly used to maintain an unsupported, off-center body form. To get proper posture, pull your chin inward and pretend there is a string pulling straight up from the top of your head. While on the subject of posture, be mindful of your alignment when you are engaging in activities – are you stooping over? Jamming into your joints when you lift heavy objects? Working one-on-one with a personal trainer or a certified Tai Chi or yoga instructor can help find ways to move your body that won’t cause problems down the line.
Essential fatty acids: essential for joint health
Another way to protect your joints is to control inflammation in your body with natural anti-inflammatories such as omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). Studies show that a daily consumption of fish oils containing a rich supply of omega-3 fatty acids – in particular EPA and DHA – can help alleviate joint pain and morning stiffness in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers. To be effective, the dosage must be at least 500 mg each of EPA and DHA on a daily basis. In your diet, get your omega-3s from salmon, trout, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil, and avocados.
Try traditional herbal therapy
The traditional Chinese remedy for back and joint pain is eucommia, which strengthens bones, tendons, and ligaments. Western studies with rats confirm that both the leaves and the bark of eucommia contain a compound that encourages the development of collagen, an important part of connective tissues such as skin, tendons, and ligaments. A typical dosage is 350 mg twice a day. You can also try the traditional Chinese formula Arthritis/Joint, which includes eucommia in combination with other herbs. This formula is also helpful as a preventive formula for athletes.
May you live long, live strong, and live happy!
Dr. Mao Shing Ni, best known as Dr. Mao is a bestselling author, doctor of Oriental Medicine and board certified anti-aging expert. He has appeared regularly on “Dr. Oz,” “The Doctors,” and “EXTRA.” Dr. Mao practices acupuncture, nutrition, and Chinese medicine with his associates at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica and Newport Beach. Dr. Mao and his brother, Dr. Daoshing Ni founded Tao of Wellness more than 25 years ago in addition to also founding Yo San University in Marina del Rey. To make an appointment for evaluation and treatment please call 310.917.2200 or you can email Dr. Mao at email@example.com. To subscribe to his tip-filled newsletter please visit www.taoofwellness.com.