Thanks to our healthy joints we can move, run, jump, twist and turn. All of the things that keep us moving freely and enjoying life.
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And as we age it’s natural that our bodies go through normal wear and tear over time. Our joints can too if we don’t proactively keep them in good shape.
Joints are where two bones come together, connected by ligaments and muscles for stability. Bones also have a layer of smooth, white tissue called articular cartilage. This tissue helps distribute compression forces and allow for smooth gliding when we move.
According to orthopedic surgeon Robert Molloy, MD, keeping your joints healthy should begin with the initial goal of reducing the wear and tear on the cartilage over time.
Be proactive and preventive
“It’s a circular approach in some ways. By keeping your joints healthy with an active lifestyle and continuing to stay active throughout your life, it sets you up to continue these activities that you love later on — whether it’s walking, running or other sports,” Dr. Molloy says.
Dr. Molloy recommends a three-way approach to the care you give your joints — continuing to move, picking the right exercises that reducing the load on the joints, and using and strengthening your core muscles (to positively affect posture which also reduces pressure on the joints).
This three-way combination is crucial to long-lasting joint function and reducing the potential for early arthritis. It even aids in better health outcomes for bone health, too.
Variety is key
Physical therapist Gary Calabrese, PT, DPT, advises on the specific training regimen you can build for healthy joints.
“The key to a successful exercise program is variety. Completing a balance of aerobic, muscle strengthening and flexibility exercises, along with keeping a healthy weight, will provide the base for good joint health for a lifetime.“
Here are some of the best exercises you can wrap into your routine to support your joint health.
- Cross-training has become a popular way to add variety to your exercise routine, because you do different activities each time you work out.
- Flexibility exercises allow us to maintain the full range of motion that joints desire. Active stretching exercises such as yoga, tai chi and pilates all help our joints stay ready for more intense exercise.
- Stretching exercises should be performed before and after aerobic or strength training for maximum performance.
- Aerobic or cardiovascular exercises should begin with relatively low intensity. As you age, you should avoid high-impact training such as jumping rope, step aerobics or running on hard surfaces such as city streets.
- Low-impact exercises and sports like bicycling, paddleboarding, walking and swimming are ideal and can be performed with minimal equipment. Gym equipment with low-impact loads on the legs include using an elliptical, stair climber or stationary cycle.
- Weight training keeps your muscles strong and allows for good joint stability. Performing weight training with proper form is critical, as is starting with low loads and higher repetitions for joint safety. Before starting a weight training program, you should seek the advice of a trained professional such as a physical therapist or exercise physiologist to develop the optimal program.
If you enjoy it you’ll stick with it
“Above all, you should pick exercises and activities that you enjoy and that meet a low joint load outcome,” he says. “This will help you stick to your activity and keep you active longer,” Calabrese says.
It’s also a good idea to seek help from a personal trainer or physical therapist when putting together the program that works best for you, especially if you’re an athlete with more performance goals and activity.
“Although there are treatments out there that can help chronic muscle and joint pain later in life, the true goal is to try to avoid getting there in the first place by taking care of yourself early on,” he emphasizes.