Bad joints are common as we get older, but at the very point where exercise becomes most important, they can make the thought of doing any less than appealing. The fear of worsening them, the aches and pains of working them, the creeping sense of impending mortality when you feel them creak – these can all lead to a lacklustre approach to working out. But exercise helps to maintain bone density, keeps you trim (lessening the load on your overworked joints), improves your balance (helping to prevent falls) and builds up muscle to protect your bones. So it’s time to stop griping and start gym-ing – but what actually causes joint problems as you age? Is joint pain simply part and parcel of getting older? And what are the best exercises for tackling bad joints?
All Arthritis Is Not Born Equal
Arthritis is a catch-all term for joint pain, but there’s over 100 different types of it , and getting the right diagnosis affects how it is tackled. Your arthritis may be a side-effect of an underlying disease such as haemochromatosis , which can also lead to heart and liver disease, so it’s important to see your doctor (something British people can be notoriously reticent about doing!) to get a proper diagnosis. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of age-related arthritis, and is caused by the rubbery cartilage which serves as a shock absorber for our joints  becoming stiff and brittle as we age. This exposes the joint to more impact, and tendons and ligaments stretch, causing pain.
But don’t despair – by sticking to a regime of cardio and muscle-strengthening exercises, you can reduce joint pain – and if that sounds more like a life-sentence than a reprieve, don’t worry. Once your body starts to change and your pain begins to decrease, you’ll feel more motivated – and these exercises work your whole body to strengthen, protect and improve bone density, without giving you a heart attack in the process.
The Best Exercises for Bad Joints
Building muscle is crucial for protecting your joints, but that doesn’t mean you need to join a gym and start pumping away – by integrating cardiovascular exercise into your daily routine, you can start building muscle and increase your core stability. Taking a brisk 30-minute walk daily is a good way to start, and weight-bearing exercises such as hiking are a great way to integrate a hobby with a necessity – plus they improve your bone density, making them extra effective. High-impact exercise such as running, jogging or tennis should be avoided, while swimming, cycling and using the cross-trainer at the gym are fantastic for strengthening muscles while avoiding putting extra pressure on your joints.
Resistance bands are an excellent tool for bad joints, and they’re cheap and easy to use, too – no gym membership needed. Tie a band round both legs over the knee and simply walk sideways to strengthen both knee and hip muscles. Or try a rotator cuff exercise to strengthen your shoulders – tie one end of the band to a post, grasp the band with your arm at a 90-degree angle and pull the band down so your arms are by your side. Repeat on both sides.
Aim for 30 minutes of light cardio 5 times a week  and you should begin to feel the benefits very quickly. But don’t suffer in silence if you’re struggling – it could be a sign of an underlying issue. See your GP to get a referral to a good physiotherapist, who can give you a programme of exercises tailored to your individual needs – and if you’re suffering from pain, always consult your doctor first.
For further help and advice contact the helpful doctors at The Wellman Clinic.