Like many people, you may not give bone density and joint health much thought until you experience pain or find yourself asking, “Why do my joints hurt?” However, taking simple steps to proactively protect your musculoskeletal health can go a long way in keeping you pain- and injury-free as you age. Here are six things you can do to keep your bone density up and joints in tip-top shape – plus, what foods to eat for healthy bones and joints.
#1 Maintain a healthy weight
Carrying excess body weight is not only associated with high blood pressure and an increased risk of diabetes and heart problems, but it also puts extra stress on the the joints, knees, hips and back. This added stress on the joints can lead to degeneration, thus accelerating the process of osteoarthritis, explains DR DANIEL PHANG, a pain management physician at Affinity Pain Clinic. For this reason, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is essential to our mobility, and can help reduce risk of joint damage, arthritis and pain.
Even a little weight loss can help! According to the Arthritis Foundation in the US, every pound of excess weight you lose takes four pounds of extra pressure off your weight-bearing joints.
#2 Keep moving
Staying active is crucial to keeping off those extra pounds. It can also ease joint stiffness, prevent muscle strain and help preserve bone density, explains DR TAY EILEEN, senior consultant and orthopaedic surgeon at StarMed Specialist Centre.
She suggests weight-bearing exercises such as walking or running to help foster strong bones, and bodyweight exercises like push-ups or pull- ups, functional movements like climbing stairs and weight training exercises to build muscle.
“Just make sure that your exercise routine includes core-strengthening exercises for your abdominals and back muscles. A strong core helps you maintain your balance and prevent falls.”
Low-impact exercises such as swimming and cycling, she says, are particularly effective in strengthening muscles without putting strain on the joints.
Yoga and Pilates are also great low-impact exercises. “They’re good for increasing flexibility, core-strengthening and improving your balance, all of which can help to prevent falls,” says Dr Tay.
#3 Don’t forget to warm-up and stretch
A pre-workout warm-up is important because it primes the muscles and joints for activity, mobilises the joints and reduces the risk of injury, explains Dr Phang. So, it’s worth dedicating some time to a proper pre-workout prep.
“Warm-ups can be as simple as jogging in place, jumping jacks or dynamic stretches,” he says. “Some athletes even warm up with few circuits of their normal exercise reps, but at lower intensity. For example, a five-minute jog may be a precursor to a longer marathon training run, and a circuit of push-ups or chin-ups can prepare the joints for a more intense calisthenic activity.”
Dr Tay is also a proponent of keeping muscles flexible with pre-activity warm-ups.
“Dynamic stretching such as lunges, torso twists or arm circles, are a good way to warm-up before any activity, as it simulates the movements you will be doing with exercise,” she says. “This increases blood flow to the muscles, which helps to warm them up and increase their flexibility.”
Dr Tay also recommends taking frequent breaks during the day to stretch, whether you’re at work or relaxing at home.
#4 Eat a balanced, nutrient- rich diet
In combination with exercise, a healthy diet promotes strong bones and joints, and helps keep off any excess weight, explains Dr Tay. The key to maintaining a balanced diet is finding ways to incorporate the right nutrients into each meal.
To build muscle, for instance, you’ll need to eat sufficient lean protein, she says. “Good sources of protein include lean meat, seafood, beans, legumes and nuts.”
When it comes to food for healthy bones, look to calcium sources. Calcium-rich foods promote healthy bones, so it is especially important to load up on calcium to prevent osteoporosis, which makes bones more susceptible to fractures as we age, says Dr Phang.
“A healthy diet of calcium gives our bodies enough calcium substrate for absorption, increases bone density, and reduces risk of bone fracture and bone loss.”
Dairy products like yoghurt and cheese are among the best types of food for healthy bones. Of course, drinking milk is also an excellent source of calcium. But, if you’re sensitive to lactose, he recommends leafy greens like kale and broccoli, soy products and fish, which are also filled with calcium.
And, if you’re not getting enough calcium from food, Dr Phang advises adding supplements to your diet.
#5 Get your daily dose of D
To absorb all of that dietary calcium, you’ll need adequate amounts of vitamin D, explains Dr Tay. “Vitamin D, which is naturally produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight, helps the body absorb calcium more efficiently.” An adequate amount of vitamin D, she says, can be produced by five to 30 minutes of sun exposure to the arms and legs at least twice a week, particularly around midday (around 10am to 3pm).
Of course, relying on sun exposure as our source does come with the risk of skin cancer. And, with the work-from-home trend still going strong, our body’s natural production of vitamin D has likely decreased anyway, explains Dr Phang. Therefore, he says that taking supplements can be the best way to ensure you’re getting your daily dose of this important vitamin.
#6 Stop smoking
Smoking is, of course, bad for your lungs and heart. What many people don’t realise, however, is that smoking can significantly affect our musculoskeletal health, says Dr Phang.
In fact, research links smoking with a higher risk of injury. Smoking reduces blood supply to the bones and joints, and hinders the body’s ability to absorb calcium. This makes bones more susceptible to osteoporosis, fractures and osteoarthritis. What’s more, studies have shown smokers to have an increased risk of back pain and rheumatoid arthritis.
Setting those cigarettes aside is therefore a key step in slowing down joint degeneration and keeping our bones healthy and strong.
This article first appeared in the September 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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