Mclatchy-Tribune News Service
One of the most uncomfortable symptoms of getting older is stiff joints. Your knees ache if you stand up after sitting for a while. Your shoulders ache if you have to reach up to put something away. It can be hard to move quickly because your joints are hard to move at all.
Okay, to be truthful, you will probably have some of that stiffness no matter what you do. But you can greatly decrease the typical joint stiffness of middle age if you work your joints on a frequent and regular basis. This isn't about arthritis, just the ordinary stiffness that starts setting in around 50 or so.
It helps to know how joints work. First, a joint is where two bones meet. An example is the knee joint made by the femur and tibia, the finger joints that make knuckles, or the extremely mobile upper arm bone, the humerus, which makes up the shoulder joint with the collar bone and shoulder blade. Most, though not all, of the body's joints are 'synovial,' which means they produce a lubricating fluid that helps the bone ends move past each other easily, without friction.
Synovial fluid is produced when the joint moves. But the body is lazy. If there's no joint movement, there's no reason to ooze that synovial fluid out into the joint. As time goes on, the body adapts to not creating synovial fluid, and so it takes a lot more movement to get it flowing again.
To help prevent joint stiffness, you want to stop your body from slowing the flow of lubricating fluid. But even non-synovial joints will get stiff if they adapt to not changing position. That means you must move every joint in your body for several minutes at a time; either daily or at least every other day. Plan on a 15-minute movement routine, which is best done early in the morning to get everything moving again after hours of sleep.
Each movement should be done for at least 90 seconds. Start by making a fist, then spreading your fingers wide to move all your finger joints. Next, rotate your wrists, first in one direction, then in the other. Move your elbows, then move your upper arms in every direction to thoroughly work the shoulder joint. Turn your head from side to side, up and down, forward and back; this works the joints of the upper spine.
The spine itself has 76 joints, so it needs a lot of movement. Turn your shoulders from front to back, lean back, lean forward, lean sideways. Rotate your torso around your hips. All this can be done either sitting or standing.
For the lower body, sit and lift each foot one at a time so the leg is straight. This works the knee joint. Then, hold the foot out and turn the toes from side to side to rotate the thigh in the hip joint. Hold the leg still and rotate the toes in a circle to work the ankle joint.
Soon, you won't have that dull ache when you stand up after sitting in one position for a while. You'll find that morning back pain will have lessened, or gone away entirely. Your joints, and thus your movement, will be fluid and easy. You will sit, stand and walk like you've taken a drink at the fountain of youth.