Want Healthy Joints and Cartilage? Make Sure You’re Doing These 8 Things

Cartilage naturally breaks down as you age, but taking the right steps could help keep your joints pain-free.

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Stay at a healthy weight

01_Ways_to_keep_your_istock/stevecoleimagesExcess bodyweight puts extra pressure on your cartilage. In fact, being just ten pounds overweight can increase the force on your knees between 20 and 30 pounds with every step, says Dominic King, DO, medical orthopaedic physician at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Center. “By keeping your weight down, you’re keeping the appropriate amount of weight that your knees are designed to handle,” he says. Not only that, but excess weight—especially around the belly—creates inflammation that stresses the cartilage, says Jason Theodosakis, MD, board-certified physician and author of The Arthritis Cure. Try these weight-loss tricks that don't include diet and exercise.

Start a Mediterranean diet

02_Ways_to_keep_youristock/MoncherieClaims about superfoods that can stop inflammation make sense for digestive-related inflammation like celiac disease. But there haven’t been enough large studies to prove anti-inflammatory foods will help your cartilage, says Dr. King. Any eating plan that keeps you at a healthy weight will help, though, he says. Dr. Theodosakis recommends a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. Even if its anti-inflammatory effects don’t directly strengthen your cartilage, it can protect against heart disease, dementia, depression, and more. “The Mediterranean diet isn’t a fad diet—it’s a broad diet with lots of evidence for helping many other conditions besides just arthritis,” says Dr. Theodosakis. “It’s a good basis for a diet and something people can do their whole lives.” Stay away from these foods if you want to lose weight.

Adjust your family’s meal plans

03_Ways_to_keep_youristock/SolStockMeals are bonding opportunities, so it can be hard to stay away from unhealthy foods if your family keeps trying to feed you delicious but fattening family recipes. After you visit a nutritionist to learn your food needs, bring your family on board with your new eating plan, suggests Dr. King. “If you’re looking at losing weight, it’s helpful for the whole family to help with that,” he says. “If you’re doing it on your own, it’s really hard.” Find out the best ways to help your partner lose weight.

Try a supplement

04_Ways_to_keep_yourTatiana Ayazo/Rd.com, iStockTaking a supplement with 500mg of Natural Eggshell Membrane (NEM) boosted cartilage health in postmenopausal women in as little as a week, found a study co-authored by Dr. Theodosakis. “The study showed that it can help decrease stiffness and pain, but what’s big news is that it also helps decrease the amount of cartilage breakdown,” he says. Glucosamine and chondroitin could also help, though long-term studies haven’t shown that either can slow down cartilage breakdown, says Dr. King. Still, they’re safe to take and could be worth considering. “If you find something that helps you 5 percent, all we need is to find other things that also help a little,” says Dr. King. “Together, as you move forward, they’re a great part of your plan.” Don't miss these other home remedies for arthritis.

Sip more water

05_Ways_to_keep_your_Tatiana Ayazo/Rd.com, iStock“The most overlooked supplement is water,” says Dr. King. Between 65 and 80 percent of your cartilage weight is water, which gives it the ability to compress. By staying well hydrated, you can boost the liquid in your cartilage and help them take the impact of your weight as you move, says Dr. King.

Prioritize exercise

07_Ways_to_keep_your_Tatiana Ayazo/Rd.com, iStockLow-impact exercises like swimming, biking, walking, and lifting weights won’t just keep your weight down, but they’ll also help your cartilage. Using a cyclical motion with biking or deep-water jogging can stimulate your cartilage if you do 60 to 90 cycles per minute, says Dr. Theodosakis. “It sends signals to the cartilage cells to make more cartilage,” he says. He recommends asking a specialist like a physical therapist for sport medicine doctor to help design a program that’s right for you. Don't miss these secrets of women who work out every day.

Get instruction before starting an activity

08_Ways_to_keep_your_istock/Emir-MemedovskiCartilage injuries can cause permanent damage that leads to arthritis. Prevention is key, so have a trainer teach you the correct form when you’re starting a new sport. “Acute injuries are often from a person’s form not being ideal,” says Dr. Theodosakis. By getting lessons, though, you can lower your risk of cartilage damage, he says.

Don’t try to jump right back in the game

09_Ways_to_keep_your_istock/Sasha_SuziIf you do have an injury, giving yourself the proper recovery time is vital to preventing any further damage. “A joint is nine times more likely to be reinjured than to be injured in the first place,” says Dr. Theodosakis. “You shouldn’t be jumping back into the activity when you’re still hurting.” Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen might make the symptoms feel better, but hold off if you can. Swelling and pain are signals that your body needs to fix itself, so those medications can hinder your healing, says Dr. King. Start by resting and elevating your knee, and using a compressive knee sleeve before you reach for the medicine cabinet. If the pain still lasts for several days, see a doctor, he says. Learn how to know when leg pain is serious.

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