Quality of life is something we all aspire to, but it’s hard to achieve this goal when your knees ache, your ankles are stiff, and your hips are tight. The older we get, of course, the harder it is to keep our joints pain free and properly functioning. “Wear and tear” is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a life of discomfort and limited activities once the first signs of joint pain hit. There are a number of things you can do to significantly – and immediately – improve joint health and relieve pain, regardless of your age (40s, 50s, and up). One of the best, and easiest, ways to boost joint health is to take a quality collagen supplement like NutraCollagen. Healthy joints depend on strong connective tissue called cartilage, which is predominantly made of collagen. Research has shown that taking supplemental collagen can reduce joint pain and improve daily activities.
Aside from collagen, here are four other measures you can take to improve joint health and relieve pain, courtesy of Chris Stulginsky, a certified Physical Therapist and Neurokinetic Therapist at Ayrsley Town Rehabilitation clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina (@ATRPhysicalTherapy on Instagram).
1) Improve Your Hydration
The simplest advice is often the most effective. According to Stulginsky, one thing you can do immediately to improve joint health is make sure you’re drinking plenty of water every day.
“In addition to hydration playing a huge role in the hydrostatic pressure in the joints itself,” he says, “it also plays an important role in the extensibility of the tendons, the contractibility of the muscle fibers, and overall fatigue.”
When a muscle is underhydrated during activity, it’s forced to contract more strongly, “which is why people tend to cramp when they haven’t had enough water,” says Stulginsky. “The force generated to perform a specific task doesn’t disappear; the body just compensates and shifts forces elsewhere. When an individual is underhydrated, more force gets placed on the joint itself because other structures [like muscles and tendons] are unable to do their jobs.”
More force on the joints means greater wear and tear, which over time will break down cartilage and cause pain. In other words, drink more water, for the sake of your joints.
Joint Health Action Tip: Recommended daily water intake varies from expert to expert, but here’s a good rule of thumb: Take your bodyweight (in pounds), divide it in half, and drink that many ounces of water every day (ie, 75 ounces for a 150-pound person, or 100 ounces if you’re 200 pounds).
However, you also need to account for certain beverages (ie, coffee and booze) that dehydrate you. “Water intake is just the ‘Gross Total,’” says Stulginsky. “Caffeinated products and alcohol have to be subtracted from this number to give you a ‘Net Hydration Number.’”
NutraCollagen’s Collagen Coffee, for example, would technically be a subtraction. But at only 40 mg of caffeine, it would be a fairly minimal deduction. Plus, you’d be getting the added benefits of Coconut Oil MCTs for healthier joints, skin, hair, and bones. Drink a glass of water with your Collagen Coffee, and you’re good to go.
2) Move Your Workouts to the Pool
Don’t just drink water – consider exercising in it, too. Any number of common land-based workouts can be done in a swimming pool, including resistance training (using foam dumbbells), calisthenics (like jumping jacks), yoga, and even walking. Swimming laps, of course, is also fair game and provides a great cardiovascular workout.
Why water instead of land? Less impact, and damage, on the joints.
“Exercise in the water has tremendous benefits,” says Stulginsky. “The physical characteristics of water – hydrostatic pressure, viscosity, buoyancy – help to limit gravitational compressive force without limiting the beneficial functional forces. Utilized often by professional athletes for performance and poster operative care, aquatics can help to reduce pain and improve mobility, often leading to better recovery and faster results.”
Joint Health Action Tip: For ideas of what types of aquatic exercises to do, here are 8 Pool Exercises For a Full-Body Workout from Healthline.com. Most people, however, are better off doing a water-based exercise class led by an instructor certified in water aerobics or aquatic fitness. To go this route, look for a health club in your area that has a pool and offers dedicated water-based classes (like the YMCA).
3) Add Mobility Work to Your Routine
Regular strength-training and aerobic workouts are great for overall health, but if your routine is lacking a mobility component (aka, flexibility or stretching) you’re putting your joints at risk and are asking for pain and injury.
“I use the analogy of a car to explain the importance of mobility work,” says Stulginsky. “It’s like inflating the tires of your car – you’ll get better mileage, improved handling, and less wear and tear on the frame. Proper muscle contraction is based on specific filaments, called actin and myosin, lining up with each other. If the muscle is too tight, these structures won’t line up as well as they otherwise could, affecting force generation.”
Having joints that are stiff and not able to move through full ranges of motion may not affect you in the short term, or during non-strenuous activities like walking. But eventually the lack of mobility will catch up to you and cause injury or at the very least chronic pain.
Bottom line, a well-rounded exercise plan includes three key components performed regularly: resistance-training, cardiovascular exercise, and mobility/flexibility work.
Joint Health Action Tip: Mobility work should be done at least 3-5 days per week, if not daily, and should hit all major joints of the body (ankles, knees, hips, lower back, shoulders, etc.). Stulginsky advises doing mobility program under some level of guidance or supervision.
If you belong to a gym and do group classes that include mobility in every session under the guidance of a qualified coach or trainer, stick with that. Yoga is also a good practice for improving and maintaining adequate flexibility and joint health, plus it’s highly accessible nowadays. If you’d prefer to do mobility work at home, ROMWOD.com is a solid option that offers daily guided stretching routines for a membership fee of $14 per month.
4) Get a Functional Exam by a Qualified Professional
Reducing pain can help you feel better right away, but addressing joint health is also about improving your quality of life for many years to come. Because of this, Stulginsky highly recommends a formal movement exam.
“A more long-term solution for optimizing joint health is to get evaluated by someone who has a knowledge base in functional movement,” he says. “I encourage people to look for someone certified in the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA). It’s a comprehensive, functional exam that can identify not only what’s hurting, but why it’s hurting. All too often in orthopedics, individuals are evaluated on an exam table, not standing, walking, or running. Those positions are crucial to identifying how the joints in your body are working in conjunction with each other.”
Joint Health Action Tip: To find an SFMA-certified professional in your area and schedule an assessment, visit functionalmovement.com and go to the Find a Certified Member section.