Protecting those Knees

As we age, we hear more and more about people requiring knee surgery or even knee replacement. While the knee is not the most complicated joint, it is one that gets a lot of use and bears a lot of weight. It is important to be cognizant of the proper form while exercising to avoid injury; in particular, doing lunges or squats the wrong way can put a great deal of pressure and stress on the knee.

When we talk about the knee, we cannot just talk about the bones (the femur, tibia, patella, etc.) but also about the tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. All of these are susceptible to strain and injury. Working with a fitness professional is one way to help ensure that knees stay healthier–or at least avoid serious damage.

A new study referenced in the most recent issue of IDEA Fitness Journal reaches some enlightening conclusions about the connection between exercise and the risk of physical harm to the knees. As a runner (although I run less now than I used to), I always worried about the risk to this all-important joint; I assumed that our knees were like tires: they last for certain amount of miles and then they need to be replaced! Researchers at the University of Southampton and University of Oxford (both in England) found that the benefits of exercise–even for the frail and elderly–outweights the risks with regard to our knees. The study focused on the likelihood of developing knee osteoarthritis from physical activity. 5000 participants were followed for 5-12 years and the data suggests that neither the amount of energy spent in physical activity or the length of time were associated with a risk of developing arthritis.

This is good news; my last blog post focused on a related idea. Many people are afraid to work out for a variety of reasons–including injury. Studies show that the more information that can be shared with those beginning an exercise regimen, the greater the chances of success; that information should include debunking myths and stressing the benefits of exercise (versus the risk of not) as well as setting proper expectations of what the process will be like.

My knees have not worn out (yet), but it is good to know that it does not appear that years of running and physical activity might lead to knee arthritis in the future. One more reason to go boldly ahead keeping myself fit for whatever the future brings.

Take Care of those Joints

Joint Pain

It is no secret to older adults that one of our trouble spots as we age is our joints (the ones inside our bodies!). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 50% of those age 65 or older have osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone; it causes pain and stiffness, especially in the hip, knee, and thumb joints. Is there anything that can be done to take better care of our joints?

A recent article on http://www.aarp.org, suggests 6 behaviors that are harmful for our joints.

  1. Smoking. Nicotine narrows blood vessels thus prevent blood from reaching the cells that seek its nourishment; this includes the cells in our cartilage. Additionally, smoking can add to brittle bones which raises the likelihood of fractures by 30-40%.
  2. A Physically Inactive Lifestyle. People who are sedentary are more likely to have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight; carrying around extra pounds puts stress and strain on the joints–especially the knees. Consult with a doctor or fitness professional about which exercises are best for joint health, since some movements can exacerbate joint problems.
  3. Overdoing Exercise. This is all about maintaining the proper balance. Currently guidelines suggest 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise each week. This need not be particularly strenuous (and in some cases should not be); as noted in #2, consult a doctor or fitness professional for how to best put together a program for your needs and condition. Avoid being a weekend warrior as well; do not stay inactive the whole week and cram 2.5 hours into the weekend. A mix of cardio and strength training is recommended.
  4. Carrying Too Much. Literally, this could mean moving furniture, carrying a heavy backpack, etc. This should be avoided, but if it cannot, be certain to use proper posture and lifting techniques. Keep the load closer to your body for less stress on the joints.
  5. Eating the Wrong Foods. There are many foods that are “pro-inflammatory.” These include: red meat, fried foods, and sugary foods and drinks. On the flipside, there are foods that are considered anti-inflammatory such as fishes with high levels of fatty acids (salmon and mackerel), leafy greens, as well as some tree nuts; work more of these foods into your diet.
  6. Too much Texting. The more we text the more strain we put on the joints in our arms and hands. There are some ergonomic keyboards that can help, but make sure to take a break if your work/hobby requires a lot of typing. Most smartphones also have a voice to text option so that you can dictate rather than typing some of the type.

As we age, it is more and more important to keep moving. Of course, we rely on our joints to make that a reality. Treat your joints well and they will last longer, keeping older adults more independent.