Are you a Boomer? If you were born between 1946 and 1964, you're part of a generation that has defied stereotypes at every stage of life. But as you march through your fifth or sixth decade, you may find that your joints are finally showing their age. Since staying active is critical to maintaining health and happiness, what happens when you're sidelined by common orthopedic issues like joint pain and osteoarthritis?
When faced with joint pain, your tendency may be to cut down on physical activity, but that's not necessarily the answer. When osteoarthritis affects the hips, knees, hands, neck and lower back joints, exercise can actually help reduce joint pain and stiffness. And according to the experts, moderate physical activity may also prevent the decline or even restore the health and function of bones and joints. "I always encourage my patients to exercise and stay active," says Doylestown Hospital orthopedic surgeon Kieran Cody, MD. "Exercise can ease arthritis and treat osteoarthritis as well as decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes and depression. In people with arthritis, exercise will decrease the pain caused by joint stiffness and help maintain range-of-motion and strength." Dr. Cody recommends low-impact exercise like walking, swimming or biking for 30 minutes a day. And it's important to choose an exercise that you enjoy, because the more fun and rewarding it is, the more likely you are to continue exercising.
Weight-bearing exercises such as lifting light weights also works to prevent osteoporosis. "This kind of exercise increases the compressive forces across the bone, which helps to retain the bone's calcium and strength," explains Doylestown Hospital orthopedic surgeon Susan Griffith, DO. "People who can't exercise, such as people in wheelchairs or children with neuromuscular diseases, have very fragile bones because they aren't putting stress on them."
Keep Moving, But Don't Overdo It.
Maintaining a healthy weight is another very important (and in Boomer-hood, very difficult) thing you can do to prevent joint pain, as it keeps unnecessary pressure off the joints, especially the hips, knees and the balls of the feet. So exercising to keep the weight off and to keep joints and bones strong will go a long way toward helping you maintain the level of activity you enjoy.
However, you can run the risk of overdoing it. According to Dr. Cody, overuse injuries are often caused by increasing activity too quickly. "Normal exercise causes microscopic damage to muscles and bones, which your body then heals to make you stronger," he says. "When the damage piles up faster than your body can heal, overuse injuries occur." A sensible approach to avoiding overuse injuries is to adopt good exercise techniques like warming up and stretching, gradually increasing duration and intensity, and mixing up the routine to spread the stress and benefit around.
And don't forget to get enough calcium and vitamin D. "Calcium helps keep bones from fracturing and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium," Dr. Griffith says. "That, coupled with reducing weight and maintaining a lower body mass index to decrease the degradation of cartilage, can help you keep your native joints as long as possible without needing replacement or other surgeries." And that's good advice for any age.