Keeping Joints Healthy As You Age

Author: Bone & Joint Center Staff 

As the years add up, so can the aches and pains that we feel in our joints. The wear and tear of various physical activities over the years and the normal changes of aging can both contribute to joint issues. The good news is that there are certain steps you can take to better care for your joints. Since September is Healthy Aging Month, it’s a great time to talk about the best ways to keep your joints healthy as you age. 

A Common Problem

According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) that was conducted in 2012, nearly  55 percent of Americans over the age of 18 were affected by bone and joint conditions like back pain and arthritis. Since both life expectancy and contributing risk factors are both on the rise, this trend is expected to be ongoing. In some cases, these conditions can decrease work productivity, contribute to disability, and have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life. If they lead to mobility issues, other health conditions may flair up as well—such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression. 

Understanding Joint Structure

To understand why these changes occur, it helps to have a basic understanding of joint structure. Cartilage is what cushions joints and helps them move effectively. The synovium is a membrane that produces a fluid that supports cartilage health. 

As wear and tear on the cartilage occurs, this membrane can become inflamed and thickened, which may produce extra fluid in the joint that results in swelling. If cartilage deteriorates more, there may not be enough cushioning or synovial fluid available to keep everything working properly. 

Once bone surfaces come in direct contact with each other, more pain and inflammation can occur in the surrounding tissues. Bone spurs may even begin to grow if the bones continually scrape together. 

Tips for Healthy Joints

There are many ways you can care for you joints as you age, and staying active is one of the most important. Exercise is beneficial to those who have joint disease since it helps to decrease pain, limit joint deterioration, and improve overall health. A variety of key factors play a role in these dynamics, including: 

  • Increased circulation of synovial fluid, which lubricates joints.
  • Increased blood flow to the joints, which helps to nourish synovial membranes.
  • Increased circulation of nutrients to the joints.
  • Activation of genes associated with cartilage repair.
  • Removal of cellular wastes.
  • Strengthening of muscles, ligaments, and tendons that provide a structure of support.

Exercises that are good for the joints include those which don’t involve the strain of pounding—such as walking, cycling, swimming, and yoga. You should talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise.

Another important step is to maintain a healthy weight—which can be defined by a body mass index (BMI) that’s within a healthy range. Why is a healthy weight so important? Each pound you carry equals an additional four pounds of pressure on the joints. For instance, an extra 20 pounds will add 80 pounds of pressure to the knees.

In addition to staying active and losing weight, you can also help keep your joints healthy as you age if you: 

  • Stop smoking—since it increases inflammation in the body and restricts healthy blood flow to the joints.
  • Stay well-hydrated—since cartilage needs an adequate water supply to remain healthy.
  • Always warm up and cool down—to reduce the strain of physical activity on your joints.
  • Listen to your body—since new or worsening joint pain may be a signal that something is wrong. If that’s the case, you should contact your healthcare provider for an evaluation.

If you want more information about how to keep your joints healthy as you age, our team of experts is here to help. Contact us today.