You’ve probably heard that pounding the pavement for miles and miles may not be good for your joints. But did you know that sitting all day at the computer might actually be worse?
You may have other daily habits that are equally as bad for your knees, hips, shoulders, and more. Arthritis does run in families, but the truth is that you can do things that increase your risk of joint problems, and no one wants that.
What might you be doing right now that a) puts you at risk for arthritis, or b) makes your already-diagnosed arthritis worse? We’ve got the 10 most common things right here. If you can avoid these, you increase your odds of enjoying more comfortable movement into later life.
- Failing to exercise every day.
Exercise helps keep your joints healthy. If you already have arthritis, it can also have a huge effect on pain and mobility. It can be difficult when you’re feeling stiff and sore, but the more you avoid your exercise routine, the more you’re likely to hurt.
A number of studies have examined the effects of exercise on both osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and the evidence keeps piling up—exercise helps. In a 2011 study, for example, researchers noted that exercise training for RA patients helped improve fatigue and strength, and substantially improved function while likely reducing cardiovascular risks. “All RA patients should be encouraged to include aerobic and resistance exercise training as part of routine care,” they said.
Scientists found similar results with exercise in OA, stating that as long as a patient doesn’t have a joint injury, they should be actively encouraged to exercise regularly, as it helps to preserve joint range of motion, boost strength, facilitate weight loss, and reduce symptoms of the disease.
The American College of Rheumatology states that exercise and arthritis “can and should coexist. People with arthritis who exercise regularly have less pain, more energy, improved sleep and better day-to-day function.”
They go on to state that exercise should be one of the mainstays of treatment for OA of the hip and knee.
Recent research even suggests that the long-held belief that exercise contributes to arthritis may not actually be true. They observed over 1,000 people and gathered data on their exercise habits and any joint problems. They found no link between exercise and arthritis of the knee.
- Sitting still too long.
Even if you’re exercising for 30-60 minutes a day, if you’re sitting for much of the rest of the day, you’re probably going to suffer from joint pain. When you stay in the same position for too long, the blood flow slows to the lower body, tiring the muscles and straining the joints.
You may have heard about the studies linking sitting time to an increased risk of mortality. The body is just not made to be still for prolonged periods of time. Recent research found that after just two weeks of inactivity, participants lost muscle mass and experienced increases in body fat, particularly dangerous abdominal fat. Both of these things—muscle weakness and overweight—increase strain on joints.
In fact, Harvard researchers reported in 2017 that the average American is now twice as likely to develop arthritis as his or her grandparents were because people are less active, in general, and more likely to be overweight and obese.
Instead of staying still, find more ways to move. Get up from the chair every 10-15 minutes, take phone calls standing up, and walk around at least once an hour.
- Exercising too hard.
Yes, you need to exercise every day, but there’s such a thing as overdoing it. Sometimes we just want to feel like we used to, and we push it too hard. That can actually cause joint injuries and make it harder for you to enjoy the benefits of regular exercise.
Most people suffer from exercise-related injuries when they try a new type of exercise. Instead of building up to it slowly, they try to do the entire workout, or run a half marathon within a few weeks. Taking it slowly so that you can build up stamina and strength helps you get where you want to be without risking joint injury.
“One of the biggest problems people with arthritis have,” Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D., founder and director of the Center for Coping in Hicksville, NY, told the Arthritis Foundation, “is that when they feel like doing something, they tend to do too much.”
Listen to your body. If you’re feeling pain, lighten up. Use exercise to help you feel better, but go at your own pace.
- Sticking with only one exercise.
If you’re a runner, that’s okay. In a 2017 study review, scientists noted that the data showing an association between hip and knee OA and running were conflicting, so they examined data from 25 studies involving over 125,000 individuals. They found that recreational runners had a lower occurrence of OA compared with competitive runners and to those who didn’t run at all.
The researchers concluded that a sedentary lifestyle or high-volume and high-intensity running were more likely to lead to OA. Recreational running, however, did not.
The best answer is to vary up your exercise. Don’t pound your knees into the ground with running. Enjoy running one day, then alternate with joint-sparing cycling the next. Try swimming once a week, rebounding, or an easy walk. Get together with friends for a hike or a horseback ride. Then go back to your run. The more variety you can get, the better you’ll feel.
- Ignoring yoga and tai chi.
Both of these forms of exercise/stretching have been associated with improving joint comfort and reducing the symptoms of arthritis. If you’re not taking advantage of them, you’re missing out!
Just eight weeks of yoga class, for example, was found in one study to improve the physical and mental well being of people with both knee OA and RA. “Yoga may be especially well suited for people with arthritis,” said Susan J. Bartlett, Ph.D., associate professor at McGill University, “because it combines physical activity with potent stress management and relaxation techniques, and focuses on respecting limitations that can change from day to day.”
Even older adults with OA who were unable to perform typical yoga poses still received benefits from “chair yoga,” a modified version of the exercises. Researchers found that it reduced pain and fatigue and improved quality of life.
Tai chi, as well, because of its slow, graceful moves, can help reduce pain and physical impairment in people with arthritis. In a 2010 study, researchers reported that arthritis patients who practiced tai chi twice a week for eight weeks experienced improvements in pain, fatigue, and stiffness. They also felt an overall increased sense of well being.
- Avoiding strength-training.
Studies show that strength training is key for protecting joint health and for slowing the progression of arthritis. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation states that strength training is “essential” for arthritis, because it reduces pain, increases range of motion, and boosts bone density.
The thing is, muscles help support joints. When the muscles around your joints are strong and toned, they take some of the pressure off the joint itself, and help support it through movement. When your muscles are weak, your joints experience more strain during movement, which can result in pain and inflammation.
According to one study, “muscle loss and fat gain contribute to the disability, pain, and morbidity associated with knee osteoarthritis (OA), and thigh muscle weakness is an independent and modifiable risk factor for it.” They went on to test strength training in about 370 people with arthritis, and found that it slowed the progression of the disease, lowered pain levels, and decreased inflammation.
Another review of eight trials showed that strength training improved strength and confidence, boosted function, and reduced pain. Start slowly, and consider using resistance bands rather than weights—they require a gentler, steadier movement.
- Getting a poor night’s sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, it’s bad for your joints, and likely to make your pain worse. That’s what scientists found in a 2015 study—poor sleep was linked to pain, disability, and depression.
“Research continues to show that not sleeping at night exacerbates pain the next day,” said lead study author Patricia Parmelee, Ph.D., “but what is most concerning is that there is something about sleep disruption that predisposes folks with arthritis to become more disabled over time.”
Other studies have also found that sleep deprivation increases inflammation, which in turn, increases pain. On the other hand, better sleep improves comfort. A good night’s sleep has been associated in studies with reduced sensitivity to pain.
Sometimes existing joint pain can make it hard to fall sleep, or may wake you up in the middle of the night. If you’re finding this to be the case, check with your doctor. The best approach is to treat both the pain and the insomnia at the same time, as they tend to feed each other. In addition, do everything you can to increase the likelihood that you’ll get a good night’s sleep.
Try stretching before bed to loosen muscles (yoga works great); turn the phones, televisions, and computers off; turns the lights down; enjoy a warm bath; and go to bed at the same time every night. You can also try some lavender or lemon balm tea before bed—both are relaxing and calming.
Don’t forget to exercise every day. A 2014 study found that a regular exercise program improved not only pain and stiffness, but sleep quality as well.
- Eating too many processed foods.
Sugar and white flour can spike blood sugar levels, which can lead to inflammation and—you guessed it—pain. These types of foods also increase risk of becoming overweight, which puts more pressure on the joints.
Two studies released in 2015 revealed how diet can affect RA. The first one found that the typical Western diet high in red meat, processed meat, refined grains, fried food, and sweets could increase a person’s risk of developing RA compared to healthy diets made up mostly of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, poultry and fish.
The second study found that following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (which advocates more fruits and veggies and whole grains) reduced the risk of developing RA by 33 percent compared to those who didn’t follow the guidelines.
A 2003 study also reported that RA patients who followed a Mediterranean diet—which includes fish, whole grains, healthy fats (like olive oil), lots of fruits and veggies, and seeds and nuts—reduced overall inflammation, increased physical function, and improved vitality.
- Skimping on vitamin D.
We make vitamin D in the body when the skin is exposed to the sun. We also get a little bit from food, but not enough. That means if you’re not getting enough sun exposure (minus the sunscreen), you are probably low on vitamin D, and that’s bad news for your joints.
Scientists now know that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with an increased risk of both OA and RA. Studies also show that OA gets worse three times faster in people with inadequate vitamin D, and that vitamin D deficiency is highly prevalent in RA patients, and may also be linked to disease deficiency.
Yet many of us aren’t getting enough. In 2008, researchers reported that vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a pandemic, and in 2009, they found that three-quarter of Americans were deficient.
The recommended daily allowance for this vitamin is 600 to 800 IUs a day, though many health experts advise that you get 1,000 IUs. To get more vitamin D, expose yourself to sunlight without sunscreen for just 10-15 minutes every other day. Then consider taking supplements, particularly in the darker winter months. It’s also wise to ask your doctor to check your vitamin D levels to be sure you’re in the safe range.
- Drinking too much soda—and not enough water.
Some of us are addicted to our soda pops, but if you have joint pain or arthritis, it’s time to choose a different beverage. Studies have suggested that consuming sodas on a regular basis can worsen arthritis pain and inflammation.
In the Framingham Osteoarthritis study, for example, cola intake was associated with lower bone mineral density in women’s hips. (Bone mineral density is a measurement of bone health.) The mean bone mineral density of those who consumed at least one cola a day was 3.7 – 5.4 percent lower than in those who consumed less than one cola a month. Similar results were seen with diet colas.
In another study, researchers followed 46,000 middle-aged men with a history of gout, and found that those who drank two or more sodas a day had an 85 percent higher incidence of developing gout than those who drank less than one soda a month. Those who drank one soda a day had a 45 percent higher incident rate.
And in 2014 study, researchers found that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda increased risk of RA in women.
Soda not only increases risk of arthritis, though—it can also make it worse if you already have it. In a 2012 study, researchers reported that patients who drank the most soda had the quickest progression of OA, with cartilage depletion occurring faster than in those who didn’t drink so much soda.
Try more joint-friendly beverages like water (which helps rehydrate the joints), tea, and pain-relieving tart cherry juice.
One More Thing—Cheap, Unsupportive Shoes
In addition to the ten items above, poor quality shoes can also contribute to joint pain and deterioration. High heels throw your balance off kilter and can cause knee pain and back pain. Shoes that don’t provide enough cushioning or arch support can also contribute to pain and stress on the joints.
Visit your podiatrist, and find out exactly what your feet need to keep your body aligned correctly. Orthotics and properly fitting shoes can help you avoid joint damage.
If you want to overcome the aches and pains that have been keeping you from enjoying life, then check out the Joint Complex 4000.
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