We all know aging can take its toll on our bones, joints and overall mobility. Our movements and reflexes slow, our bones get thinner and lose their density, and we tend to naturally cut back on activity. But did you also know there are steps you can take to preserve and protect your bones, joints and muscles? In fact, according to the board-certified orthopedic specialists at Tulane Health System, there are some easy steps we can take to strengthen our muscles, add density back to our bones and protect our joints.
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Maintain a healthy weight
This sounds simple, but for many people, staying at a healthy weight is difficult. But because our joints are weight-bearing, says Dr. Greg Stewart, maintaining an optimum weight is important to our mobility and overall health. Along with high blood pressure, diabetes risk, heart problems and all the other things we know come with carrying excess weight, it also puts extra strain on our knees, hips, spine, etc.
Eat well, be well
Eating a well-balanced diet is important for maintaining your overall health, as well as for your bone, joint and muscle health. Ensure that you have plenty of vegetables, fresh fruits, lean proteins and whole grains, and limit your intake of foods that are processed or high in sugar, salt, fat or carbohydrates. Although scientists aren't sure why, eating a healthy diet can sometimes reduce the risk of arthritis.
Load up the calcium
As we age, says Dr. Wendell Heard, our bones are susceptible to osteoporosis, the thinning of our bones, which makes them more susceptible to fractures. Calcium in your diet and through vitamins is one of your most important weapons against osteoporosis. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, along with dark leafy greens and broccoli and certain types of fish such as salmon give you the calcium that's so critical for bone strength. Look for calcium supplements with Vitamin D.
D in your day
Vitamin D works hand-in-hand with calcium to keeps our bones strong. It helps our bodies absorb calcium more efficiently, adds Dr. Anderson. As adults we typically need 1,000 to 2,000 IU of Vitamin D in addition to our calcium. Spending time in the sun can also help us get more Vitamin D.
Get up and move
The key to continued mobility as we age, says Dr. Michael O’Brien, is staying active, sometimes even when we don't feel like it. Just as important, he adds, is knowing our bodies, and its limitations. We boost our bone strength with exercises that "load" or compress them, but those activities are harder on our joints. Before starting on any exercise regimen, check with your physician, or work with a physical therapist, or personal trainer experienced in working with seniors to know what would be best for you:
- High impact: Exercises like running, high-impact aerobics, dancing, tennis are all good for our bone strength. If you begin to notice pain when you exercise -- different than the muscle ache after a good workout -- switch to something else.
- Low Impact: Walking, cycling, swimming are also ways to strengthen muscles without strain on your joints.
- Stretching and Flexibility: Yoga and Pilates are two low impact exercises that are excellent for core-strengthening, improving your balance and increasing flexibility, all of which protects us against falls, and help with posture.
- Strength training: Training with weights is also excellent for bones and muscles. A personal trainer or physical therapist can help you know what is appropriate given your age and physical condition.
- Light stretching: Keeping your muscles flexible helps you maintain good balance and posture. Try stretching at least three times a week. This works best when your muscles are warmer.
Let's be careful out there
Independence is so important to us as we age, that we sometimes try and prove ourselves by overdoing things. While maintaining your home and yard are important and fulfilling, make sure you don't exhaust or injure yourself. For example, if yard work leaves you achy and exhausted, consider asking for help. Or if you need to move a heavy chair or table, it may not make sense to do that by yourself.
Kick those habits -- it's not too late
Tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to bone density loss. If you smoke, find a class that can help you quit. Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink per day.