Healthy Joints

“For me to be happy I need to walk today,” she says to me every day. “I need to smell the leaves and chase the squirrels and chipmunks. I need to let my paws pound the dirt paths, and let my muscles stretch and flex and twist.”

She’s so smart. I love my dogs.

Aging well

The wisdom of the animal lives in us all. Your body makes a similar proclamation. “Move me or my ability to move will atrophy,” it says. Regular movement ensures that we will be able to remain active and independent as we get older. We used to spend 85% of our lives outdoors. Now we spend 2%. It says quite a bit. We are too sedentary and too isolated in the comfort zones of our modern lives. Every now and then a reminder of that is helpful. 

“Use it or lose it” is an introductory theme of this bulletin discussing the basics of joint health. And to “use it” well you have to arm yourself with some facts.

Healthy Joints

“Wear and tear” as a term to describe osteoarthritis is misleading. It’s important to know that the evidence doesn’t suggest a strong connection between simple, repetitive use of a joint and the development of osteoarthritis. The idea that our joints are like car tires or light bulbs, with a limited number of uses before their lifetime expires, is simply untrue, experts will attest. Major trauma to the joints increases the likelihood of arthritis, that’s true, but not routine and regular movement. As you’ll see below, regular, smart movement helps to prevent arthritis.

Here are a few gems I have compiled for you concerning joint health and smart movement:

1. Muscles: In my assessment, muscle is a huge factor in joint health. Joints wear down because the muscles around them atrophy from inadequate use. Without adequate muscle a joint is subjected to abnormal forces. Walking can help build and maintain muscle mass, which tends to decline with age. Hill walking is a great way to build muscle and is a notable component of blue zone studies in longevity. Walking on hills engages various muscle groups, including the legs, glutes, and core. Contrary to the misconception that hill walking may strain joints, it can actually improve joint health because of the excellent muscular stimulation.  

Muscle mass is a real key to aging well. “Higher lean mass equates to higher nutritional reserve and strength whereas lower muscle mass (sarcopenia) is a major contributor to disability and increased mortality.”

2. Uneven terrain: The controlled impact of walking on uneven terrain can help strengthen joints and reduce the risk of arthritis. The unevenness of the occasional root or rock enforces all the lower senses and spreads the force over the entire joint. Walk on dirt or gravel or grass if possible. The natural surfaces are forgiving. Concrete is a compromise. Be careful with it. Walking in the city is a lot of concrete. Just be aware that it is a compromise. Experts also warn of walking on sand, also not ideal. The treadmill is decent because it absorbs shock. However, there are some things the machines in the gym can’t do. Like this:

3. Step count: The latest thinking is the exact number of recommended steps to take in a day is individual. The main thing is to regularly move. Can you schedule 2 walks per day? If you have a healthy body walk for two 30-40 min walks.

4. Arthritis now?: Exercise prevents but also treats arthritis. Experts will tell you that exercise eases the pain and stiffness of arthritis. “Try to work up to 150 minutes of somewhat hard aerobic exercise every week. You can exercise 10 minutes at a time if that’s easier on your joints. It’s best to do moderate aerobic activity most days of the week. But even a couple of days a week can help.” (Mayo Clinic). And an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is impactful if arthritis pain is quite limiting. Eating single ingredient foods (whole foods) and cutting out sugar, flour, and dairy is a basic introduction to what that means.

Bottom line

Listen to your body. Love it well. There is a lot of wisdom emanating at you all the time. Above (brain function) and below (muscle mass) are connected. Even if your main objective is brain health, you should move that body of yours. 

There is a principle in the longevity and aging fields that comfort is advanced aging. Too much comfort is not our friend. It’s the principle behind a wide variety of approaches including cold plunges, intermittent fasting, mixing up routine, and even writing with your non-dominant hand. It’s also the principle behind incorporating regular movement into you daily routine, even though it may be uncomfortable at first. Once it becomes a habit it brings a lot of joy.

Plus, if you get some good exercise today, I bet you’ll sleep well tonight!