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Over six million Canadians have bone or joint health problems, including arthritis, rheumatism, osteoporosis, and injuries resulting from sporting activities or falls. Experts agree that the best way to protect your bones and joints is to prevent injuries altogether. Here are four tips to reduce injury and help maintain healthy bones and joints:

1. Exercise regularly

Exercising “feeds” your joint cartilage (the hard protective tissue at the ends of your bones). Without healthy activity, your joint cartilage will go hungry, and your bones will be unable to absorb nutrients or remove waste. Regular exercise also strengthens the muscles, tendons, and ligaments which cushion and protect your joints and keep them flexible.

Here are ways to take care of your bones and joints while exercising:

• Warm up and stretch before any type of physical activity.
• Incorporate moderate to vigorous exercises into your routine, such as swimming (which helps you gradually develop your overall strength without putting pressure on your joints).
• Try strength and balance training, using free weights and/or weight machines (to improve muscle strength and physical fitness, and to help decrease joint pain over time).
• Incorporate balance and flexibility exercises, such as yoga and tai chi (low-impact, slow-motion exercises which are designed to increase flexibility and muscle strength, improve your balance, and reduce pain).

2. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight puts extra stress on your joints. Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight will not only reduce this strain, but will also help prevent a number of other diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

What you eat and drink matters. A well-balanced diet can help you reach a healthier weight and improve your bone health.

• Milk, cheese, yogurt, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, canned fish with bones (e.g., sardines), beans, and soy products contain calcium, which helps build bones.
• Milk, margarine, and eggs contain vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium.
• Caffeinated and alcoholic beverages can block calcium absorption and contribute to bone loss.

3. Protect your joints every day

Here are some predicaments you may encounter in your daily routine, and some simple solutions to help overcome them:

Bad posture?

When sitting, get yourself a footrest, as resting your feet on an object can reduce the pressure in your lower back.

Heavy grocery bags?

Carry heavy objects close to your body and use your larger, stronger joints to do the work (i.e., hips and knees). When you can, slide, push, or roll things rather than carrying them.

Demanding, repetitive housework?

Alternate the tougher tasks with lighter ones. Stretch before you begin housework, and change positions carefully (e.g., bend at the knees instead of using your back).

Sitting in front of the computer all day?

Adjust your chair so that you are at eye level with your screen. Your elbows and forearms should be at 90° angles, and should be supported by armrests.

Inactive?

Maintain a balance between activity and rest since a sedentary lifestyle can result in a “stiffening” of your joints. Remember to get up and move around at timed intervals throughout the day (e.g., every 30 minutes) to keep your joints limber. Use it or lose it!

On your feet all day?

When you can, alternate between sitting and standing during the day. If this is not possible due to your line of work, ensure that you are wearing comfortable and supportive shoes. Stretch your feet (by standing on your tiptoes) and toes (by wiggling them). Standing on a rubbery surface or carpet can also reduce leg and lower back strain. Avoid wearing high heels.

4. Be safe

Remember that too much of anything can be harmful to your body. Don’t overexert yourself and make sure to always:

• Assess an activity or sport before you start.
• Warm up before any vigorous physical activity, and cool down afterwards.
• Learn how to prevent injuries around the home.
• Speak with both your physiotherapist and your doctor before starting or modifying an exercise program.

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