Your knees are a precious pair indeed; the joints on which hinges your ability to walk and bend comfortably late into life.
Do knees have to creak, ache and stiffen as you age? Not a given! With regular care and attention, you can keep your knees happy and healthy. Here are some pointers to help you along:
Your knee health can improve dramatically if you lose the extra pounds. If your BMI (Body Mass Index) is 25 or more, the extra weight you are carrying has to be borne by your knees. (Calculate your BMI here.) Every extra pound you carry adds up to 3 pounds of pressure on your knee joints when you walk, and 10 pounds when you run. All this pressure steadily breaks down knee cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis. Add to this the other significant risks posed by obesity, and you have every reason to lose the extra weight.
Your knees benefit each time you go up and down the stairs, but do make the climb a gentle one. The correct way to climb stairs is to place your foot flat on the surface of the steps and bend your knees, not keep them straight.
Your knees are grateful for smooth surfaces. If you feel the occasional twinge or pain in your knees, steer clear of walking on cobbled paths and even soft grass, which can be bumpy and uneven. Hard concrete and asphalt surfaces are poor shock absorbers, and can strain your knees. Dirt is the optimum terrain for stopping foot discomfort because it’s soft and absorbs some of the impact when the foot hits the ground, says Glenn Gaesser, PhD, professor of exercise physiology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. If dirt doesn’t appeal to you, he recommends indoor walking.
Your knees are happy when you bend forward in a squat. But stretch them beyond 90 degrees and the result could be disastrous! There is only so much a joint can take, and you don’t want to cause a tear or a twinge by stretching it too far. In a Women’s Health article, Marta Montenegro, C.S.C.S points out the right and wrong way to do squats.
Your knees need support from your hip and inner thigh muscles. If the muscles up there are weak, the pressure of walking falls on the knees, causing you pain. So, follow an exercise routine that strengthens the hip adductor muscles. My go-to source for such exercises is Yoga Journal, where you choose from among several poses that don’t put undue demand on your muscles and joints.
Your knees don’t need an aggressive treadmill session, because repeated forceful pounding can place stress on them. Low-impact activities are ideal for your joints—think yoga, walking, cycling and swimming. All of these enhance circulation, build stamina and improve flexibility without placing excessive strains on your knees. Done regularly, they also build the muscles that surround the knee joints. One often-quoted study reveals that a relatively small increase in quadriceps strength (20%–25%) can lead to a 20%–30% decrease in the chance of developing knee osteoarthritis.
Your knee health is affected by your choice of shoes. If your shoes cause your body weight to be unevenly distributed, the result is extra stress on your knees. And if you have flat arches and bowed legs, the wrong kind of shoes can affect your stride and aggravate knee problems greatly. A good, knee-friendly pair of shoes feels snug and carries your foot rather than you to drag your body as well as the shoe along. For detailed information on this important topic, do check out this study and its footwear-selection recommendations.