5 Things You Can Do To Maintain Joint Health

How to maintain joint health (Photo credit: Pedalist/Shutterstock)

One in two Americans will get some form of osteoarthritis (OA) in their lifetime and 27 million adults currently have it. After the age of 45, the prevalence of OA increases, affecting many people in their prime working years. Since OA is a painful joint disease that can place severe limits on daily activity and quality of life the Arthritis Foundation is committed to working on understanding the mechanism for how this disease can be treated and managed.  Since no cure has been found yet it’s up to you to do the best you can to decrease the risk for getting arthritis.  According to research, there are five behavioral strategies to adopt to put your best foot forward in warding off arthritis. 

Speaking of putting your best foot forward toward joint health, there’s a new iPhone and iPad app created by legendary quarterback Joe Montana and his partner, Joint Juice, called “Throw with Joe,” designed for fun but also with a serious mission of raising funds for the non-profit Arthritis Foundation. Check it out and support arthritis research! 

Strategy 1:  Know what your ideal weight is and achieve and maintain it

Weight loss is not just lip service in the plan to prevent osteoarthritis.  Studies show that for every single excess pound you carry there is a fourfold increase in force load upon your knees.  As an example consider a 15-pound overweight person.  The load on the knees is four times that weight or 60 pounds.  If you are overweight, now is the time to swallow the bullet and meet with your doctor who could recommend a qualified weight management expert.  You don’t have to lose all of your extra weight to gain benefits according to research from Wake Forest University.  In that study, subjects (both men and women) lost only 2% of their body weight and improved the comfort level in their knees.  The key is to lose it NOW before osteoarthritis becomes a problem. 

Strategy 2:  Start taking a joint health supplement

Glucosamine is a dietary supplement that has been shown to improve cartilage health.  Daily doses of 1500 mg have been shown, over time, to help decrease harmful substances in the blood that cause harmful degradation to cartilage tissue.  Glucosamine, found in supplements such as Joint Juice, is easy to purchase in drug or grocery stores and does not require a prescription.  For years, veterinarians recommended glucosamine to pet owners for pain relief due to arthritis.  Years of research have shown that not only can glucosamine help manage joint discomfort due to arthritis but may actually benefit younger people who have not developed osteoarthritis yet.  Research is still outstanding on this issue, but investigators are excited about the preventive aspect of glucosamine,

Strategy 3:  Stay Physically Active

If you aren’t active now, just start walking.  It doesn’t sound like it could do much but in reality walking will keep your joints loose, flexible, will build strength in the muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joint, will strength bone tissue, and promote blood flow to the joint.  Other excellent low impact exercises that also promote joint health include cycling, spinning, tai chi, and water aerobics.  Activities that could increase the risk of a joint injury, which could then stimulate arthritis, include sports that pound the joint, such as running or sports that have promote lateral twisting movement in the knees such as tennis, racquetball, or skiing.  Other movements that could increase risk of damaging joints include heavy weight lifting and weight room exercises such as lunges, leg extensions, and squats using heavy weights.

Strategy 4:  Warm up before your physical activity

Stretching, doing range of motion movements, and in general warming up before exercise will increase blood flow to your joints and muscles.  Researchers don’t agree completely that warming up pre-exercise prevents joint injuries, but what they do agree on is that it can’t hurt. 

Strategy 5:  Eat a healthy, phytochemically rich diet

Although no specific diet has been shown to prevent osteoarthritis, certain nutrients have been associated with a reduced risk of the disease.   They include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats reduce joint inflammation, while unhealthy fats, like saturated fat, can increase it. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and certain plant/nut oils, including walnut, canola, soybean, flaxseed/linseed, and olive.  Peanut and almond butter are good sources of healthy fat too!
  • Vitamin C. One study of participants in the Framingham Study found that moderate intake of vitamin C (120-200 milligrams per day) reduced the risk of osteoarthritis progression threefold. You can get more vitamin C in your diet by eating green peppers, citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, turnip greens and other leafy greens, sweet and white potatoes and cantaloupe.
  • Vitamin D. Another study of Framingham Study participants showed that people who have knee osteoarthritis and low blood levels of vitamin D are three times more likely to experience disease progression, compared to people with high levels of the vitamin. Your body makes most of the vitamin D it needs in response to sunlight. You can get more vitamin D in your diet by eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and herring; vitamin D-fortified milk and cereal; and eggs. 


Dr. Kristine Clark is the Director of Sports Nutrition and Assistant Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Penn State University. She advises coaches, MD’s, athletic trainers, and administrators on policies regarding weight loss & gain, food and beverage choice, eating disorders, and supplement use in college athletes. She is an active member and Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine and a member of the USOC’s Sports Medicine Advisory Board. 

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