If you want happy joints, move them – even if they’re creaky.
Joints stiffen as we age and the cartilage between them breaks down. Physical activity helps them stay healthy. That’s because exercise keeps joints lubricated. It also builds muscle.
“You can’t strengthen a joint itself, but you can strengthen muscles that support the joint,” says Carol Krucoff, C-IAYT, a yoga therapist with Duke Integrative Medicine, in Durham, North Carolina, and the author or coauthor of five books including Healing Moves and Relax into Yoga for Seniors.
Exercise also helps keep the pounds off – sweet relief for your human hinges. If you’re overweight, each additional pound adds 4 pounds of pressure to your joints, according to Harvard Medical School.
Taking your joints through their full range of motion, or as close as possible, is a terrific way to care for them, Krucoff says. Try the exercise below, adapted from Relax into Yoga for Seniors. It is done lying down, which creates ease.
“You take all the pressure off the joints,” Krucoff says. “Sometimes when people have joint pain, they are afraid. When you are lying down and take gravity out of the equation, it’s much safer. This is something you can even do in bed.”
Of course, sometimes you shouldn’t exercise. If your joints are red, hot or swollen, rest them. Conditions like this also could signal severe conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, which often requires a specialized care regimen devised by medical professionals.
Benefit: Lubricates joints throughout body. Warms up joints to prepare for more intense activity or weight-bearing exercise.
Set up: Lie down with your arms at your sides and bring the soles of your feet down, ahead of your hips, knees bent. Make circles with your wrists and open and close your fingers a few times. We often use our hands throughout the day, but it still helps to intentionally move the joints related to them.
Lift your arms forward and overhead, and then lower them as close as you comfortably can toward the surface behind you. Follow the same arc to bring them back to your sides. Repeat for several breaths.
Hips, Knees, Ankles and Toes
Bring your right knee into your chest, holding behind the thigh. Roll your ankle, making circles with your foot. Relax your foot and straighten your right leg upward. Then bend your knee bringing your heel toward your buttock. Repeat several times until your leg is pointing up. Press through your right heel, and then reach your toes back toward your nose spreading them apart. Then point your toes toward the sky. Do this several times. Then bend your knee to bring your right ankle just past your left thigh, to open your right hip. Press through your right heel to protect your knee. Take several breaths. Repeat the sequence with your left leg.
Rock your knees from side to side, keeping your feet on the ground and turning your head away from your knees. Spend a few breaths on each side, allowing the exhales to drop you deeper into the twists.
After you’ve completed the practice, choose a weight-bearing exercise of your choice to build muscle.
Creaky or not, your joints will thank you.
Connect with journalist and wellness writer Mitra Malek at www.mitramalek.com.