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MOVE

Give your joints a break

Some of the hardest working parts of your body are your joints. These intricate structures allow us to stand, sit, walk, talk, bend, lift, play piano, dance, chew, write with a pen, type on a computer, wave goodbye, and thousands of other movements every day. Just think about it. In every movement you make, the muscles, ligaments and tendons around your joints flex, extend, twist or stretch. That's a lot of work.

So it's important to keep our joints in good working order. And, if you already have some arthritis or joint problems, you can improve your joint health by strengthening the muscles around the joints and exercising to maintain your range of motion.

Lose weight 

Excess weight puts added pressure on your weight-bearing joints, which can increase wear and tear over time and your risk of arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the rate of arthritis in Americans is one in five; this number increases to one in three among those who are obese.  

Weight loss reduces this added pressure to your joints. Research reports that for every pound you lose, you take four pounds of pressure off your knees.  

Keep it low impact

High-impact activities, such as running, stair climbing and jumping rope, can put a lot of stress on your joints. During running, for example, every time your foot hits the ground, you increase the weight load to your knees by two to three times your body weight. For a 200-pound person, that's 400 to 600 pounds of pressure on your knees, hips and ankles with every step.  

Low-impact activities provide the same aerobic and muscle strengthening benefits of high-impact activities without stressing your joints. Such activities include elliptical machines, stationary bikes, rowing machines, treadmill walking and swimming. In addition to building muscles, these activities help maintain range of motion and can help you lose weight.  

Strengthen and maintain

You should add some specific strength training exercises to your workout routine. Remember to maintain proper form to avoid injury. And don't use too much weight. Try using a weight that you can comfortably lift, and increase the number of reps (repetitions) and sets (groups of repetitions) over time. Work up to 12 to 15 reps of each exercise, and do two to three sets.  

If you have arthritis or joint damage, you can still do strength training. In fact, it will help you reduce pain and maintain range of motion. The key is less weight, more reps and good form.  

Here are some recommended exercises for strengthening your joints: 

  • Squats
  • Clam shell exercise – lie on your side, with one arm under your head. Keep legs together and bend your knees to 90 degrees. Draw your legs toward your chest until your hips are also at 90 degrees. Keep your feet together and lift the top leg, separating the knees (open like a clam). Keep hips forward. Lift and lower 20 times while keep hips and abdomen muscle taut. Repeat on your other side.
  • Bridges
  • Side leg lifts
  • Shoulder stretches and exercise
  • Wall crawl – stand facing a wall. Place your palm on the wall in front of your chest and slowly walk up the wall with your fingers as high as you can with no pain. Hold this position for five to ten seconds and then crawl back down. Repeat five to ten times, stretching a little further each time. Can also be done with your side to the wall to stretch the side muscles.
  • Weight machines, where you pull the weight toward your body, such as a lat pull down or rowing.

Another suggestion is to incorporate workout exercises that mimic activities of daily living. For instance, if you have a toddler that needs to be picked up frequently, you should incorporate squats into your routine and lift a weight similar to the size of your child. If your back needs strengthening, find exercises that strengthen your stomach muscles, including the oblique muscles that run along the sides of your abdomen and connect to the spine in the back. Talk to a personal trainer for other ideas that can help you imitate activities of daily living.  

Be flexible

Exercises that increase flexibility are also recommended for joint health. These include Pilates and Yoga. These types of activities help maintain range of motion, too.  

Listen to your body

When it comes to joint health, one of the best pieces of advice is: "listen to your body." You want to work your muscles until they are tired. Work to the point of pain, and don't push through pain.

Before you begin any new exercise program, be sure to talk with your health care provider. He or she may have recommendations specific to your needs and conditions.

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