Exercise is one of the best ways to take care of your joints. It can decrease pain and swelling, while building joint mobility, bone density, and strength. It also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which decreases the stress on your joints. Some people are reluctant to exercise for fear of aggravating their shoulder, elbow, knee, or toe pain, but there are simple things you can do to exercise smartly, especially in the summer. Here are some do’s and don’ts:
- Stretching is prevention. While stretching before exercise used to be considered de rigueur, these days many experts say it’s preferable to stretch afterwards, when your muscles are warm and pliant. Stretching helps lubricate joints and maintain ‚Äîeven improve‚Äî range of motion while preventing injury. Although, don’t discount stretching or warming up before by easing into your activity. For example, walk briskly for 10 minutes before beginning to run.
- Take it slowly. It’s great that you’re enthusiastic about getting your body moving again but be sure to gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts. Like your heart and lungs, your joints also need to acclimate to an activity. Increasing the duration and intensity of your physical activity by about 10% per week is a good goal. But check in with your body regularly to see how you’re feeling. Don’t forget to build in a day or two of rest.
- Don’t ignore your core. Your core has everything to do with your joints. If your abdominal muscles are week, your back muscles can become tighter and shorter, throwing off your alignment. That puts excessive pressure on your knees. There are many ways to exercise your core, including doing planks, abdominal crunches, and leg raises.
- Wear good quality athletic shoes that are appropriate for your body and the sport. You always want well-fitting footwear, especially if your choice of exercise puts stress on your knees, like walking, running, and tennis do. For some walkers and runners, shoes with extra cushioning and special insoles may be the best options, but for others, not so much. And if you’re going to play tennis regularly, get a good pair of tennis shoes. Tennis shoes differ from walking and running shoes because they provide more stability for side-way movements, which are frequent on the court. The best thing to do is to visit a specialty athletic shoe store where knowledgeable staff can advise you on the best options for your body, gait, and needs.
- Consult a trainer to help with form. Exercising with improper technique or using equipment that’s not adjusted correctly for your body can worsen your joint problems. Hiring a knowledgeable personal trainer to help you with things like adjusting your bike seat and handlebars or showing you proper running form can be an excellent investment.
- Mix it up. Variety is the spice of life and savior of joints. By doing the same type of exercise every day you are using the same joints and muscles, which can wear down cartilage and aggravate joint issues. The beauty of summer is that there is a variety of easily accessible activities.
Be thoughtful about your exercise, stay hydrated, eat well, and get plenty of sleep. Your joints and the rest of your body will thank you.
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