Bone and joint conditions are the most common reason for severe chronic pain and physical disability in the world. Hundreds of millions of people are affected by problems related to bone and joint health (also known as musculoskeletal health), and they become more prevalent as we get older.
Bone and joint issues can happen for a variety of reasons, but one thing’s clear: we need to take good care of our bones and joints at every age! So let’s look at some ways we can support these body systems and reduce the burden on them.
What are Bone and Joint Conditions?
The four major conditions related to bone and joint health are:
- Low back pain: the most common bone and joint condition that affects almost all of us at some time in life
- Osteoarthritis: loss of joint cartilage that mostly happens in the knees and hips, causing pain and loss of function
- Rheumatoid arthritis: inflammation of the joints, usually multiple joints
- Osteoporosis: deterioration and loss of bone mass, which is a major risk factor for hip, arm, and spine fractures
While these are the most common, it’s possible to have less-severe bone and joint pain that also impacts your life or can get worse later. To reduce pain and increase prevention, two lifestyle changes matter: exercise and nutrition.
Exercises for Bone and Joint Health
When it comes to supporting good musculoskeletal health, regular exercise is crucial. There are specific types of exercise best for bones and joints.
Exercises for Bone Health
Bone, just like muscle, is a living tissue that gets stronger in response to exercise.
For most of us, we have the highest bone mass in our 30s—and then we start to lose it. So regular exercise, especially after age 20, can help reduce bone loss and also maintain strength and coordination to prevent falls and fractures.
The best exercises for bone health are weight-bearing workouts like:
- Weight lifting or bodyweight strength exercises
- Walking or jogging
- Climbing stairs
- Playing tennis
These activities force your body to work against gravity, which helps exercise your bones.
Exercises for Joint Health
If you already live with joint pain or want to reduce future pain or injuries, low-impact aerobic or endurance exercises that don’t pound your joints are usually best. Those include:
- Riding a bike
- Strength training
- Using an elliptical machine
Also, be sure to:
- Move often (to prevent stiffness)
- Stretch daily (but not before exercise—only stretch after a workout or quick warm-up when your muscles are warm)
- Include exercises that strengthen your core to prevent falls
- Work on good posture throughout the day—standing and sitting up straight helps protect your joints from your neck all the way to your knees
Not only does exercise support your bones and joints, it helps you maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can increase pain associated with osteoarthritis, especially in the knees, and back pain, which is associated with obesity.
Foods Good for Bones and Joints
The most affordable form of prevention, along with exercise, is good nutrition. Excess pounds and poor diet can increase pain and disability related to bone and joint health, especially:
- Osteoporosis and bone-related injuries, which are linked to excess alcohol consumption
- Loss of bone density and bone fractures, which are associated with lack of calcium intake
So, a bone- and joint- healthy diet is one that is well-balanced and provides you with enough calcium and vitamin D. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that aren’t too inflammatory.
Good foods for bone and joint health include:
- Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna for omega-3s
- Dairy products (if you aren’t sensitive or allergic to dairy)
- Leafy green vegetables like kale, broccoli, and spinach
- Any array of colorful fruits and vegetables (preferably organic)
If you don’t get enough bone- and joint-healthy nutrients from your diet, talk to your doctor about supplements. Some of the most researched include glucosamine, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.
The Bottom Line
Our bones and joints support us every day, and we need them for just about everything. There’s no better time than now to better support your bones and joints—and the tips above can help you start today!