Stereotypical perceptions of people over 50 that we see in movies and television generally characterize them, somewhat humorously, as having sore and creaky joints, always complaining to their friends and family about their “old bones”.
Now, mind you, I’m not talking about people who suffer from real, medical conditions like arthritis or other bone and joint diseases that truly do involve painful and stiff muscles and joints, and limit their mobility and lifestyle. Rather, I’m referring to the commonly held idea that getting older has to automatically mean getting aching, stiff, joints and no longer being able to participate in activities you used to enjoy. I’d like to tell you how you can avoid becoming that “senior” stereotype, keep your joints mobile and pain free, and keep you as active as you’d like to be as you age.
Keep Joints, Bones and Muscles Pain-Free with Movement
If you’re like many of my patients in the over-50 age group, you may get the occasional pain and stiffness that can occur after engaging in some activity. Bigger-than-usual housework chores, playing a game of football with kids or grandkids, or even starting an exercise program can do it. However, as I tell my patients, that kind of joint pain and stiffness is more due to the sudden burst of unusual exertion on joints and muscles used to chronic inactivity than your age. Here’s why.
The human skeletal structure was built to withstand frequent aerobic movement on a daily basis. Running, walking, moving our entire body in daily activity, is the body we evolved with and still have today despite our rather sedentary lifestyles. In short, our bodies don’t do well with long periods of inactivity.
Like many of my patients, you may have a desk job where you sit for the majority of 8 hours a day. Or, you may be retired and have become less active. This kind of sedentary inactivity can wreak havoc not just with your muscles and joints but also with your metabolic functions. Did you know that sitting for more than 3-4 hours at a time could cause you to develop type 2 diabetes and heart disease? It’s true. In fact, conditions like arthritis can set in and worsen from lack of movement and inflammation that develop inside the joints. To keep our bodies happy and working correctly without pain and stiffness, we need to move on a frequent basis.
Here’s what I recommend to my patients to keep joints moving freely and without pain:
- Frequent aerobic exercise: At least 30-40 minutes daily, or at least 4-5 times a week. This can be walking, running, riding a bicycle, swimming (very easy on joints), using a stair climber, elliptical, stationary bicycle, treadmill, aerobic dance like Zumba.
- Strength training. Lifting weights 3 times a week helps keep your joints working properly and able to respond to exertion.
- Resiliency exercise. Stretching on a daily basis, or engaging in yoga or Tai Chi
Optimal Nutrition Keeps Joints Mobile and Young
When my patients come in complaining of joint aches and stiffness, one of the first things I try to determine is their nutritional status. I look for nutrients that may be lacking that could be contributing to their complaints. Most often, they lack beneficial fatty acids like Omega-3’s and collagen building nutrients that create the building blocks that keep joints cushioned, fluids within the joint maintained, and inflammation down. More often than not, they are also lacking one, simple yet critical element in their diets – water! Dehydration is common in people over-50 – either from just forgetting to drink enough water every day or from medications or caffeine use that cause a lot of urination. Here are the “good joints” nutrients I recommend to my patients:
- Calcium – whether you eat/drink dairy or not, calcium is necessary to maintain good bone and joint health. You need 1,500 mg a day over-age 50, from either food sources or supplements. Good food sources are dairy, broccoli, calcium-fortified orange juice.
- Potassium, magnesium – sometimes what my patients think is joint pain is actually muscle stiffness from a lack of potassium and magnesium. These deficiencies can result from diets poor in these minerals. Bananas, orange juice, cocoa contain good amounts of potassium and magnesium.
- Essential acids – Certain dietary acids are necessary to fight inflammation that can occur in joints and cause pain. Omega 3’s from fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or fish oil caps, 1,000-2,000 mg a day. Hyaluronic acid, 80 mg a day, builds glycosaminoglycans – a big word substance that, like glucosamine and chondroitin, stimulates new cartilage, strengthens joints and ligaments. An extra bonus of HA is firmer skin!
- Vitamin C – helps build collagen that supporting ligaments need to keep joints mobile.
- MSM – methylsulfonylmethane. A naturally occurring sulfur-rich compound that fights inflammation and pain in joints. Relieves pain similarly to aspirin without the side effects. 1,000 – 3,000 mg a day.
- Water – absolutely crucial to joint health and function. Dehydration can lead to inflammation all over your body but especially so in joints. Drink ½ your body weight in water daily.
Getting older does not have to mean being sidelined with sore, creaky joints. In fact, I have senior patients who regularly run marathons, build houses, and dance in competitions without even so much as a twinge of joint pain. Observe good nutrition and keep moving!
Mark Bromson, M.D.
Joint Pain Not Inevitable with Age, http://www.webmd.com/osteoarthritis/features/joint-pain-management-age