Seniors: tips for healthy joints and bones

Your support structure needs extra care as you age.

04 March 2014
by Andreas Wilson-Späth

With increasing age, your body’s joints naturally experience wear and tear resulting in stiffness, inflammation and pain, while your bones lose density and become more brittle and susceptible to fractures.

Here are some simple guidelines to help you keep your joints and bones in shape as you get older:

Lose weight

Carrying around some spare pounds puts extra stress on the weight-bearing joints in your hips, knees and back. Maintaining your weight in a healthy range helps to reduce this pressure along with the risk of joint injuries and arthritis.

Keep active

A regular exercise regime can contribute substantially to bone and joint health. Speak to your doctor about the kind of physical activities most appropriate for you.

“Aqua or hydrotherapy is a wonderful low-impact form of exercise allowing the elderly person to build muscle strength, increase flexibility and improve cardiovascular endurance without straining the joints,” says physiotherapist and owner of Green Point Physiotherapy [www.greenpointphysio.com] in Cape Town, Julia Gane. Avoid running and step aerobics, and try yoga, swimming or cycling instead.

Moderate weight-bearing exercise helps strengthen the muscles and ligaments which support your joints, while building your back and abdominal muscles – for instance through Pilates – contributes to improved balance and the prevention of falls. Gane recommends walking, bowls and tennis to improve bone strength and reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis.

Quit smoking

Women who smoke are known to have lower bone density and a higher risk of fractures than those who don’t.

A healthy diet

A well-balanced diet is crucial for the wellbeing of your bones and joints. Of particular importance are:

  • Calcium from dairy products, tofu, edamame beans, broccoli, figs and dark leafy greens such as spinach and bok choy.
  • Vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium and enables bone growth. The best source is sunlight, though it is best to keep out of the sun – or wear sun block – between the hours of 10am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest and can contribute to skin damage and disease.
  • Vitamin C and other antioxidants can help to lower the risk of osteoarthritis.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (from salmon, sardines, fish oil, flaxseed oil and walnuts) improve bone mineral density, while reducing joint swelling and pain.
  • Limit your consumption of salty foods, as high sodium levels cause more calcium to be eliminated in urine and lost from bone. Diets rich in refined sugars have also been associated with losses in bone mineral density.
  • Moderate your intake of alcohol, which can interfere with the absorption of bone nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.

Supplements

Men over 65 and postmenopausal women should supplement their diet with 400 to 800 international units of vitamin D and 1200 milligrams of calcium per day. Clicks stocks a wide range of supplements that provide bone and joint support. Ask a Clicks pharmacist to recommend a supplement to suit your needs.

Good posture

Sitting up, standing up straight, distributing weights like shopping bags evenly between both hands, wearing backpacks across both shoulders, and lifting things by bending at the knees are all practical measures that will help protect your joints.

If your job doesn’t provide regular movement, take frequent breaks to have a stretch or go for a short walk. Wear comfortable shoes with good cushioning and support. Avoid high heels.

Preventing falls

“Falls in the elderly are often due to decreased balance and coordination,” says Gane. Consider asking a physiotherapist to come to your home to assess the specific challenges you face – from negotiating stairs to getting in or out of bed.

You can minimise the risk of falls through some of these simple preventative measures:

  • Have your eyesight, hearing and balance checked.
  • Wear supportive shoes with non-skid soles.
  • Remove boxes, furniture, electrical cables and plants from high traffic areas in your home.
  • Remove rugs and repair lose floorboards and carpeting.
  • Improve the lighting in all parts of your home and install nightlights.
  • Use grab bars and non-slip mats in baths and showers.
  • Fit hand rails on both sides of stairways.
  • Use raised toilet seats.
  • Store necessities within easy reach.