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It seems like everyone has their own take on health, wellness, and exercise these days.
It can be difficult to wade through the sea of information trying to figure out if running, yoga, CrossFit, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the right thing for you.
Along with determining which type of movement you enjoy, it can be complicated to understand if the movement you choose is even safe for your joints.
Does too much exercise damage your joints?
Are there ways to keep your joints healthy if you exercise a lot?
Are there other ways to keep your joints healthy if you maybe don’t exercise a lot?
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Before answering these questions, it is helpful to understand more about what exactly joints are and more about exercise recommendations.
The Different Types of Joints
So, what exactly is a joint?
A joint is where two bones meet and facilitate movement, and there are over 350 of them in the human body!
Needless to say, finding ways to keep your joints healthy is important.
Joints can be fibrous (immovable) like the teeth in their sockets, cartilaginous (slightly movable) like the pubic symphysis, or synovial (freely moving).
Freely Moving Joints
Synovial joints are further categorized into 6 more types based on the shape of the bones, overall function, and how many directions of movement are allowed.
Let’s take a quick look at these to help you visualize how your joints play a role in your day to day movements.
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Ball and Socket Joints
A ball and socket joint, such as the hip or shoulder, is perhaps the easiest to conceptualize.
Condyloid joints allow for movement in a few directions and include the temporomandibular joint in the jaw or the joints in the fingers and toes.
The third, gliding joints, allow sliding movements of one broad surface over another, such as the subtalar joint in the ankle or the joints in the wrist.
Hinge joints act similarly to a door on a hinge, allowing movement along one plane, such as the elbow or knee.
Pivot joints are less common but very important because they enable rotation between bones, including the first and second vertebra, which compose the atlantoaxial joint.
Lastly, saddle joints allow movement in multiple directions but do not rotate.
An important joint in the human body that is a saddle joint is the one in the base of the thumb, granting humans the evolutionarily advantageous use of opposable thumbs, aiding in grasping small objects and eating with one hand.
The Anatomy of a Joint
Let’s dive a little further into the fundamental anatomy of a joint as it relates to ways to keep your joints healthy.
While there are many different types of joints in the body, they are all held together by supportive ligaments made of tough connective tissue.
There is smooth cartilage in the places where the bones within a joint connect to prevent friction between the two bones and allow optimal movement.
To further ensure this movement, the entire joint is encompassed by a capsule that contains a thick lubricant called synovial fluid.
This fluid also gives the bones cushion to dampen the impacts of day-to-day movement to keep the joints safe.
Other joints may also include thick specialized layers of fibrocartilage between the bones, such as the menisci in the knee, intervertebral discs in the spinal column, or the articular disc in the temporomandibular joint.
Exercise and Joint Health
Now let’s circle back to the questions of exercise and ways to keep your joints healthy.
When it comes to exercise, the most important thing is to find something that you genuinely enjoy doing.
Research-backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that exercise can assist in regulating blood pressure, managing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, and preventing unhealthy weight gain.
Exercise can be a mental hurdle for some, but there are countless health benefits of regular physical activity.
The American College of Sports Medicine publishes updated exercise recommendations through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
These recommendations state that all healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65 should participate in moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes, 5 days per week.
The recommendations suggest that, alternatively, these individuals may participate in vigorous activity for a minimum of 20 minutes 3 days per week.
Additionally, adults should perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of 2 days per week.
In your entire musculoskeletal system, your joints tend to be the most susceptible to damage from physical stressors, so identifying ways to keep your joints healthy when evaluating these recommendations certainly matters.
The smooth cartilage that covers and cushions the ends of the bones within joints does not regrow if it wears down, and the cartilage may gradually disappear over time.
This progressive process can be painful and uncomfortable and eventually can cause osteoarthritis.
In severe cases, some individuals report losing their ability to complete certain daily activities like walking up a flight of stairs, walking long distances, or accomplishing everyday chores.
These changes to the joints tend to happen over a long period and are the result of many factors, including genetics, nutritional choices, and movement patterns adopted over time.
Proactive Ways to Keep Your Joints Healthy
You can lower your chances of injuring your joints and experiencing the associated discomfort or impairments by protecting your joints.
It’s just as crucial as safeguarding your joints to minimize future damage if you already have joint problems.
While there is little you can control when it comes to your genes, you can still educate yourself and take preventive measures regarding the controllable aspects of your health.
Nutrition for Joint Health
Keeping tabs on your nutrition is one of the keys ways to keep your joints healthy.
When it comes to nutritional choices, eating a healthy balanced diet focusing on micronutrient-dense foods can positively contribute to your joint health.
Foods rich in calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, and omega-3 fatty acids can assist in maintaining or improving the overall health of your bones and joints.
Most age groups in the United States have low calcium intake, and calcium is a micronutrient essential to bone density.
Milk, salmon, and leafy green vegetables all have high calcium levels.
70% of children and adults in the United States are insufficient or deficient in Vitamin D (1), found in salmon or fortified milk products.
Vitamin K is essential for the coagulation of blood, bone strength, and cell regeneration, and insufficient amounts are associated with increased fracture risk (2,3).
Vitamin K can be found naturally in fresh leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach.
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish like salmon, are important for reducing inflammation throughout the body and may help reduce inflammation within the joints.
If you lack one or more of these micronutrients consistently from dietary sources, it may be time to talk to a doctor about taking a supplement for these micronutrients as one of the ways to keep your joints healthy.
Exercises for Joint Health
Another one of the keys ways to keep your joints healthy is yes – to exercise!
You can take it upon yourself to keep the muscles surrounding your bones and joints healthy and strong by taking part in regular stretching and strengthening.
High-impact activities that involve running or jumping onto hard surfaces, such as tennis, volleyball, or basketball, put a lot of stress on the weight-bearing joints in the body like the hips, knees, and ankles.
This stress can accelerate wearing down the cartilage within the joints.
Try swapping out some high-impact activities with lower impact movements as you begin to age.
Low-impact activities can still be physically challenging and include biking, swimming, yoga, and lifting weights.
Moving More for Joint Health
On that same note, there’s one more item that should be mentioned on this short list of ways to keep your joints healthy.
Additional precautions to reduce your overall risk of injury to the joints is to maintain an overall active lifestyle.
If you sit at a desk behind a computer for forty hours each week and then attempt to cram all of your physical activity into the two days over the weekend, you are more likely to cause unnecessary stress to the muscles and joints.
Maintain involvement with regular, daily movement that allows the muscles to be used each day.
This will make your joints more stable overall and better able to distribute stress when encountered.
As a supplement to daily movement, be sure to stretch a small amount each day to keep the muscles that surround the joints mobile and reduce their likelihood of injury.