Taking care of your bones and joints
HEALTHY BONES AND JOINTS ARE KEY TO GOOD OVERALL HEALTH, ESPECIALLY AS WE AGE. MAKE SURE YOURS STAY IN GREAT SHAPE AT EVERY STAGE OF LIFE
While you might think of your bones as a stable, unchanging structure, they’re actually formed from living tissue that’s constantly changing and rebuilding as they maintain and repair themselves. Your bones are connected by joints, which are cushioned by a tissue called cartilage and a membrane called synovium, and lubricated by synovial fluid so they don’t rub against each other. Wear and tear from injury, carrying too much weight, or simply ageing can result in torn cartilage, which can lead to serious conditions like arthritis. It’s important to take care of your bones and joints at every stage of life.
FROM THE START
Taking care of joints and bones should start from early childhood, while the bones are developing and gaining mass. It’s important for kids to stock up on calcium, which can be found in various foods, including seeds, cheese, yoghurt, sardines and salmon, beans and lentils, almonds, whey protein, and some leafy greens.
Calcium is an essential mineral – in addition to building bones and keeping them healthy, it enables your blood to clot, your heart to beat and your muscles to contract. About 99% of the calcium in your body can be found in your bones and teeth. Although you should ensure a healthy intake at all ages, it’s vitally important for children and adolescents. Encouraging your kids to eat as much calcium-rich food as possible and swap cold drinks for milk to promote bone mass could save them a lot of pain later on – the rapid growth that accompanies adolescence means bones become especially thin and delicate, leading to painful fractures even from minor falls. If adolescents aren’t getting enough calcium to compensate for thinning bones, they may suffer from skeletal defects related to low bone mass, a condition that tracks into adulthood.
You achieve peak bone mass in the period between your late 20s and early 30s. This means your bones are as strong and dense as they’ll ever be and won’t grow noticeably after this time. Unfortunately, lifestyle changes associated with early adulthood aren’t ideal for bone and joint health. Caffeinated drinks, alcohol, low physical activity due to desk work, and smoking all negatively affect your bones and joints.
It’s important to eat a calcium-rich diet and try to avoid quick meals on the go. Make sure you also spend some time in the sun for vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. If you find you don’t have enough time to exercise, give yourself breaks away from the desk during work and go for short walks when you can. Physical activity is a huge help to your joints and bones – studies have shown even one or two minutes of high intensity exercise can make a big difference.
MAINTAINING MASS IN MIDLIFE
Middle age is an important time for maintaining bone and joint health. Post-menopause, women require more calcium as the metabolism slows. A slower metabolism can be problematic to bone and joint health as it becomes harder to maintain a healthy weight, and excess weight puts strain on joints. Try working fitness into your day by tracking
your steps with a pedometer and aiming for 10 000 steps each day. This will also help strengthen the muscles around your joints and bones, which could help defend against issues like arthritis.
Bone density declines during middle age, especially for women, which could lead to deteriorative conditions such as osteoporosis. Regularly drinking alcohol, smoking, under- and over-eating and lack of exercise contribute significantly to thinning bone density, so try to adjust your lifestyle to make sure you’re doing all you can to look after your bones and joints.
Wear and tear in the bones and joints is bound to happen naturally as you age. Gentle exercise, such as yoga or tai-chi, improves balance and reduces the risk of a fall that might cause damage. A healthy diet packed with calcium and vitamin D paired with a healthy lifestyle is still necessary to maintain bone density, and avoid adding extra weight that may stress your joints. You should also take it easier – don’t lift too much weight or exercise excessively, as your bones become thinner and joints lose some of their strength and elasticity during this stage of life.