How to Keep Your Joints Healthy With Exercise

I encounter many people who are reluctant to exercise because they are afraid of pain or damaging their joints. If this is you, my goal with this blog is to help change your view on exercise and give you some advice to maintain joint health. Research has shown that both cardio and strengthening exercises can be beneficial to joint health, and more often we are seeing exercise prescribed in those who have arthritis.

Here are four ways to maintain good joint health through movement:

1. Maintain a healthy weight.

In obese individuals, for every single pound of weight loss, there is a 4-pound decrease in force placed on the knees. Think about that for a second. If you are experiencing knee pain with walking or going up and down stairs, 10 pounds of weight loss can take 40 pounds of pressure off of your knees! If you are having a hard time working on cardio, maybe diet is a better place to start to build your tolerance to walking and weight bearing activities.

2. Find a cardiovascular activity you enjoy.

I almost always recommend that people do exercises they enjoy because I realize cardio is not for everyone (myself included)! This can include walking, jogging, biking, swimming, elliptical, rowing, etc. The focus here is to keep your joints moving. Plus, it’s good for heart health. I have recommended in the past to work up to 20-30 minutes of a particular activity, and then progress the intensity (speed or resistance depending on the mode).

3. Engage in proper joint loading and strengthening exercises.

Weight bearing exercises helps to build bone strength in addition to strengthening the muscles that surround and support your joints. The important thing here, especially in a rehab setting, is to maintain good alignment and posture. Entire books are written on proper biomechanics, sp it would be impossible for me to make a list or give a generic instruction here. The bottom line: If you are new to an exercise, or if something is causing pain while performing, ask for help! Poor mechanics can lead to bigger problems.

Stretching is also important to maintain normal range of motion of a joint. If you are active with your cardio, stretching after is ideal! Every joint can lose range of motion (ROM) in any direction and there may be a set of stretches to regain this motion. This may be when a referral to a PT (physical therapist) is necessary. Generally speaking, I like to work towards gaining full/normal ROM of a joint and then strengthening through this range.

4. Exercise with controlled movement.

I often see people try to speed through an exercise/routine just to get it done and feel like they are doing themselves good. Remember, quality vs. quantity. There is a time and place for quicker movements; however, a good rule of thumb is to master the technique in a controlled manner before trying to increase the pace of a particular movement.

As always, speak with a healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program. Make sure you feel comfortable with each exercise you perform and that the exercises do not cause increased pain!

I encourage you to ask questions, share your experience, and leave suggestions for future topics in the comments below. I will do my best to respond to each as timely as possible!

imageBryon Renwand, PT, DPT, CSCS, works with ProMedica Total Rehab and received his Bachelors of Science in Exercise Science from the University of Toledo, where he also received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy. For his full bio and other articles, please click here.