As you get older, you start to feel less flexible, especially in the morning. As with everything that occurs with aging, it's different from person to person. But the bottom line is everyone experiences flexibility deficits, sometimes accompanied by joint pain, at some point later in life.
Tens of millions of Americans come to the realization they need support to help their flexibility and pain in order to lead a full life. Unfortunately, large numbers of people turn to NSAIDS like ibuprofen. The problem with this type of treatment is that it treats symptoms, and not the problem. In my opinion, medication should be the last option, if at all, for stiffness and pain associated with aging. If medication is the route of choice for you, understand that you could be ignoring the underlying issues that can exacerbate your physical problems over time; i.e., nutritional and strength deficits.
What are some of the strategies you can use to keep your joints healthy and feeling good at any age without resorting to meds?
Is there anybody out there who still claims they don't exercise because it is hard on the joints and body overall? I sure hope not. The benefits of a proper exercise program -- the key word being "proper" -- are well documented and overwhelming. A proper strength and conditioning program is very controlled and deliberate as you work toward small goals, ultimately to attain your big goal. It is the step-by-step controlled manner, which is one of the ways strength training separates itself from other forms of exercise. Studies show the incidence of injury while weight training, even competitively, both acute and chronic are very low compared to other forms of exercise.
What forms of exercise can increase your chances of injury? Anything done to excess for a period of time is going to increase your risk of injury and pain; e.g., running, basketball or any other sport. Moreover, weekend warriors are also very susceptible to injury, both acute and chronic. You can't run or play a sport part time (once a week or less) and expect to avoid problems or improve your body. Orthopedic practices love weekend warriors and extreme runners for obvious reasons.
If you're going to start running, and you've been sedentary for any amount of time, educate yourself and start off slow. Also, take running mechanics seriously. I rarely see runners, even competitive runners, running with proper form, which can be harmful to your body over the long term. Understand that running, or any other kind of aerobic activity, doesn't build strength or muscle. So, if you're interested in building your body and improving the integrity of your joints, you must include strength training in your program.
Why build muscle? If you're overweight , which causes joint problems, building muscle is an integral part of becoming and staying lean. Muscle drives the metabolism. The more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism will be. Part of this metabolic change, and perhaps the most important, is the increased sensitivity to insulin from intense training and additional muscle. The more sensitive your receptors are to insulin, the less insulin you need to metabolize glucose. Insulin is the fat storage hormone. The higher your insulin levels are, the more glucose is stored as fat; conversely, the lower your insulin levels are, the less glucose is stored as fat.
Controlling your insulin levels is a very important concept to grasp when trying to control or especially lose weight. Without getting your insulin levels under control, it will be very difficult -- close to impossible -- to shed the extra LBs. And if you don't get your weight under control, you're looking at a whole host of physical ailments. In fact, as stated earlier, being overweight is a major cause of joint problems. The John's Hopkins Arthritis Center states that being only 10 pounds overweight increases the force on the knee by 30-60 pounds with each step. Those of you who are overweight should think about the wear and tear on your joints, and how much better off you'll be without that extra weight.
Everyone should be training to build strength as well as muscle. The "use it or lose it" principle applies to our muscles as we age. And a slower metabolism isn't the only consequence of losing muscle. The more muscle you lose, the weaker you get. This is logical because the fewer muscle fibers there are to create motion, the less force you'll be able to produce. The weaker you get as a result of muscle lost, the tighter you get, resulting in a loss of flexibility. And as you lose flexibility, you lose more strength, which also creates a loss of muscle. This loss of flexibility coupled with a loss of strength leads to a decrease in joint integrity and dramatically increases your risk for chronic pain and injuries.
Are you starting to see what a vicious cycle this becomes? The only way to combat this is to start a strength and conditioning program.
Within the foods we consume, there are three macro-nutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Two out of these three macro-nutrients -- protein and fat -- are essential. This means, in order to sustain life and be healthy, we must consume them because our bodies cannot manufacture them. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, are not essential and have nothing to do with the health of our bodies.
Unlike carbohydrates, fat or fatty acids are involved in a multitude of crucial functions in the body, from brain development to maintaining cell wall integrity. If you completely cut fat from your diet, you would invariable become ill and eventually die from deficiency. However, as in all things in life, too much of some things can be bad.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), commonly contained in vegetable oils including corn oil, soy oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil and others, can be detrimental to your health. One of the biggest reasons PUFA are so unhealthy is because they are very susceptible to becoming oxidized or rancid when exposed to heat and light. These oils should never be used in cooking, let alone be used in dressings.
Because of the extraction process, the PUFA oils you buy in grocery stores are already rancid. These oils are full of free radicals, which can wreak havoc on all parts of your body. PUFAs by nature are very pro-inflammatory. It's the omega-6 fatty acid contained in vegetable oils that we as Americans consume that has this negative effect. If your joints are stiff, what effect do you think continued consumption of PUFAs is going to have? Cut them out of your diet now and see what a difference this can have on your joints, let alone your health in general.
Conversely, consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. There have been a number of clinical trials assessing the benefits of dietary supplementation with fish oils in several inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in humans, including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis and migraine headaches. Many of the placebo-controlled trials of fish oil in chronic inflammatory diseases reveal significant benefits, including decreased disease activity and a lowered use of anti-inflammatory drugs.
If you're feeling joint pain from an acute or chronic condition, or you're just feeling your age, make some of the above changes before resorting to over-the-counter or prescription drugs. It's amazing the effect nutrition and fitness has on the body, no matter your age.