Healthy joints make for happy athletes. If you’re someone who suffered this summer with a bum knee, a twisted ankle or a sore shoulder, you know the frustration that’s involved when your joints give out and pain sets in.
Research shows that more than 80 percent of all sports injuries involve joints. The good news is that there is a lot you can do to keep your joints strong and healthy so you can stay active, energized and injury-free all year long. Here are five points about joints to consider and embrace:
- CROSS-TRAIN. This is just a fancy way of saying you shouldn’t focus on just one sport or exercise routine to get and stay fit. If you’re a runner, rowing could be a good way to develop your upper body. If you swim, see if cycling suits you. By cross-training - doing a mix of sports you enjoy - you avoid the kind of single-sport repetitive motion that can cause joint problems over time. Cross-training also helps you develop muscles in new places untouched by your other sport, and strong muscles help stabilize and protect your joints. If you’re uncertain about a good cross-training complement to your sport, do yoga. It’s a wonderful way to keep your joints strong, flexible and spacious.
- GET THE JUICES FLOWING. Joints have juices, lubricating fluids that allow your joints to move with more ease and less stress. To activate those juices, start your exercise routine with a 5-to-10 minute warm-up (mindful walking, easy running or slow cycling) and gradually increase your effort. Another good way to self-lube is water, water and more water - six to eight glasses a day or the fluid equivalent.
- STRENGTH TRAIN. Joints need protection. Your muscles, tendons and ligaments are designed to protect your joints, but if they’re weak, they can’t do the job. It’s your job to get them strong and flexible, and the best way to do that is a well-designed, well-executed strength-training program that includes stretching. Get a trainer, read a book or take a course, but do something. If you do nothing, you will become weak and - believe this - your joints will suffer.
- GET BALANCED. About 55 percent of all joint injuries involve the knee. Balance exercises promote leg strength and stability, and protect the knee in all the right places. There are all sorts of wonderful standing poses in yoga and tai chi that improve balance, and so does working out on a wobbly balance board, one of the trendier pieces of fitness equipment. Muscle imbalance also contributes to joint problems. Typically, it’s the muscles you don’t see when you look in the mirror - hamstrings, rear deltoids, lower back, etc. - that are underdeveloped. Make sure your strength-training program is balanced and works your upper and lower body, your back side as well as your front side.
- DON’T OVERDO IT. Joints need tender care. If you jerk them around too much, or if you work them in ways they are not intended to go, they will rebel. Trying to lift too much weight, for instance, is a very jerky thing to do and causes problems. So can overtraining, doing too much, too often, on muscles and joints not ready for the stress and strain. Learn to listen to your body. Understand the range of motion for joints (knees are supposed to hinge, not rotate, for instance). Never push past joint pain. Be kind to your joints and they will serve you well.
HEEL PAIN? TRY THIS EXERCISE
Lots of runners and walkers get plantar fasciitis - a condition that involves the swelling or tearing of the thick band of tissue in your arch. It can cause pain in the sole of your foot or your heel. To prevent it, try this: Every morning before you get out of bed, cross one leg over the other and stretch the arches of both feet by enthusiastically pulling your toes back toward your shin. Hold for 10-15 seconds, relax, and repeat nine more times. For best results, do it three times a day.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE
“The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but instead will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.” - Thomas Edison
Marilynn Preston is a fitness expert, personal trainer and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues. She welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to MyEnergyExpress@aol.com.