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Healthy Joints: It’s about Balance

Joints are the guys that fuse all of our bodies’ basic parts together. They give us shape and form and upright stature. They are part of the foundation of our very structure. They are the “glue” between our 206 bones. But perhaps most impressive, they tell us all the ways we can MOVE. So shouldn’t we show them some respect? Think about an old rusty door hinge…stiff, creaky and old. Thank god for WD-40! Good as new. What’s the WD-40 for our joints? Unfortunately, it’s not something we can buy in a can. But then again, do we really need it, some may ask?

Most people take their joints for granted. Easy to do. Why fix what isn’t broken? Well, anyone who has suffered a debilitating injury like a slipped disk or blown out knee or rotator cuff tear will tell you why. Anyone who has developed some form of arthritis or bursitis or joint disease later in life will tell you, too. Could it have been avoided? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Can we reduce the chances of it happening or the degree to which it affects us? Absolutely.

In order to understand their value, let’s examine what makes up the basic parts of joints. The movable joint structures of our bodies consist of strong, yet delicate connective tissues that hold our bones in place. These tissues consist of cartilage (a spongy padding designed to prevent the bones from rubbing upon each other) as well as bursae (thin pockets of fluid that allow the joints to move freely and smoothly). The joints also consist of fibrous ligaments and tendons that help hold muscles and bones in place. However, they don’t do a very good job of this if they are overstretched or torn. A broken bone will often heal itself with a cast and some time; however, ligaments and tendons often do not and require invasive surgery. And if cartilage gets worn away, it’s just gone.

So, consider the phrase ‘a lifestyle of preventive medicine’. Some people are prescribed pills to prevent ailments or the development of pathological joint conditions. I am prescribing a daily dose of preventive actions. And here’s my battle cry: Start young! ‘Young’ could be 10, 25, 40, or 76. But the sooner, the better. It’s time to take note of how you use your body. Do you overuse or under use your joints? Or do you flat out abuse them? If you want your body to age gracefully with reduced chances of injury or aches and pains of aging, the secret may be balanced movement. The term ‘balanced movement’ refers to two things: 1) the type and degree of exercise we do, and 2) how we use our bodies when we’re not exercising.

Get Moving

First of all, do you take time to exercise? If not, it’s time to take some action. In order to have strong, happy joints you have to move them! Start by walking around the block for 15 minutes a day if that’s all you can muster. But just do something to get your body moving. You’ll feel better afterwards. And it will be the beginning to healthier joints!

Assuming you already do exercise, it is important to consider the type of exercise you do. Aerobic activity is very important for our health. High-impact exercise involving a lot of running, jumping, or aggressive physical contact can really be tough on the joints in the long run, however. That said, it is very important to keep the cardiovascular system strong by increasing the heart-rate. And it is cardiovascular exercise that helps maintain a healthy weight by burning fat while building muscle. But consider other types of aerobic exercise that can achieve the same purpose without overstressing the joints: walking briskly, cycling, rollerblading, aerobics classes, and especially swimming.

For optimal joint health, it is also important to find an exercise program that strengthens and mobilizes the joints through smooth, controlled, weight-bearing movements. Great exercise systems include Pilates, yoga, and various weight-training programs. Each has its own benefits for the joints in terms of maintaining optimal strength, flexibility, and circulation when done correctly. All are great choices for building healthy, strong joints and should supplement cardiovascular exercise.

When you Aren’t Exercising

Joint health is also determined by how we use our bodies when we’re not exercising. A child can sit on the ground for hours with no backaches or hip troubles. Why? Because he or she hasn’t learned bad posture yet. Balanced movement is about balanced joints – or in other words, good posture. Good posture extends far beyond keeping your shoulders back. It is the daily habit of sitting, standing, walking, and carrying Life’s ‘weights’ (i.e. children, purses, or psychological stress) in a physically balanced way. And it requires strength around the central joints in the body, those of the hips, neck, and back.

This type of balanced movement is achieved by using exercise to re-train the body to move in an optimal way that is maintained when the exercise is over. Perhaps the most effective technique to teach this is Pilates. Though Pilates is also known for building flat tummies and lean muscles, it is ideal for teaching balanced movement and thus protecting the joints. First of all, every exercise begins with the abdominal ‘core’, thus centering the body through out every movement. The system also ensures that the joints are strengthened through safe, aligned movements. Finally, the exercises gently mobilize the spine and then stabilize it into its most natural, upright position. Ultimately, Pilates teaches the mind to become acutely aware of the body’s position when it’s moving and when it’s not. Such awareness, combined with deep core strength, is what maintains good posture and balanced movement when we are not exercising.

Thus, maintaining healthy joints begins with balanced movement. We must exercise our bodies with care and become aware of how we move them when we’re not exercising. To do this means feeling younger longer, with fewer aches and pains along the way. So be wise and consider your joints, especially while they are healthy and taken for granted. Ponder a ‘lifestyle of preventive medicine’. Think proactive versus reactive; discover your own WD-40. You’ll feel better, trust me. And your only set of joints will thank you later on.

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