Exercise these three joints to stay flexible as you age

01/21/2014 7:04 PM

08/08/2014 10:21 AM

Three major joints in the body have to be strengthened by everyone over the age of 50. Otherwise, growing older will be a miserable experience.

You probably already know that a joint is where two bones meet. Something else you may know: Bones are connected to each other by dense white tissues called ligaments. Muscles are connected to bones by thick tendons at each end of the muscle. As we get older, these white tissues tend to contract, or shrink. This makes the joint stiff and harder to move, limiting its range of motion.

When you don’t have full range of motion in a joint, you’re forced to make smaller movements. This is a setup for injury. If the joint is accidentally stretched past its limited range of motion, the non-pliable and brittle connective tissues may sprain or tear. How many people over 50 do you know who have sprained or torn a ligament or tendon and had to have surgery or wear a brace?

It would be great if all middle-agers worked on stretching and moving every joint in their body three or four times a week. Everyone would be more flexible. Tissues would be pliable and easy to move. There would be less pain and far fewer injuries. But even with all the benefits, few folks will have the discipline to do it. However, if you work on just three joints every other day, it will help your vigor and flexibility, no matter what your age (this goes for those of you in your 40’s as well).

The three joints are shoulders, knees and ankles. These joints are used every time you reach for something or take a step. They are easy to work. If you wish to walk with a youthful spring, moving around without pain or limitation, you need only a few easy exercises, each of which can be done at home.

Shoulders: The shoulder is the most mobile and complicated joint of the body. It pushes, pulls, lifts and rotates. If all you ever do with it is to reach across the table for the salt, or hold a phone up to your ear, most of the tissues and muscles of your shoulder are not being used. It will be hard and painful to reach up to get something from an overhead shelf or catch yourself if you ever start to fall.

Strengthen and extend your shoulder range of motion by placing hands at shoulder level. Lift your arms above your head and bring them back to your shoulder. Next, with hands at shoulder position, push the arms straight out in front of you and pull them back. Follow with arms at your sides; lifting them out and up to shoulder level. Finish by holding your arms out to the side and rotating them, first in small circles, then larger ones as your strength increases. Do each movement five to 10 times, depending on the difficulty. As it become easier, do the exercises while holding a pair of one to two pound dumbbells.

Knees: Most knee exercises can be done in a kitchen chair. While sitting, raise one leg in the air, keeping the knee very slightly bent. Hold for one minute, or until your leg tires. Repeat with the other leg. Next, lie on your back and lift your legs up. Alternately bend and straighten each leg at the knee. Finally, using a stair or a low sturdy bench, step up and step down, first with one leg, then the other. An aerobic step, which can be purchased at most sporting goods stores, is perfect for this exercise.

Ankles: Sit on the floor for the ankle strengthening exercises. Grab a towel at each end and place your foot in the middle, keeping your leg straight. Hold the towel ends tightly and press your foot forward while pulling back on the towel. Turn your foot to each side and press hard against the towel. Use enough force so that your ankle joint has to really work.

Exercising these joints will help your body stay strong and pain-free for the rest of your life.

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