Your diet is as important as exercise to help keep the knees healthy and strong.
If you're like many Americans, you resolve to eat more healthily and exercise consistently around this time of year. Both are exceptional goals. However, studies show they are usually tossed aside by Valentine's Day if they're explicitly made as New Year's resolutions. As it turns out (mainly depending on the lifestyle choices you're starting with), we Americans don't have a whole lot of stick-to-it-ness when it comes to health goals. But what if I told you that, no matter how old you are, that making these challenging but impactful changes in your life can help prolong the health of your knees? I know knee health might not seem like an enticing motivator, but it should be. Healthy knees help you stay active and on the go for a long, long time. When they're not healthy, life starts to pass you by and can become downright disabling.
I've written extensively on exercise as highly beneficial to knee health. The foods we eat are at least half, if not more, of the equation when it comes to overall health and wellness, including that of your knees. It has been said that "you can't outrun a poor diet," and I couldn't agree more. No matter how hard you exercise, if your diet is SAD – that is, the Standard American Diet – then all that exercise effort is doomed to fail. According to the most recent statistics from the CDC, the way we eat in America should trouble us deeply. Depending on which region of the United States you reside in, the percent of adults who report consuming LESS THAN ONE piece of fruit or vegetable serving each day is alarming. In some areas of the country, less than half of us get even one serving of fruits and veggies a day, let alone the recommended daily amount. The statistics are even worse for adolescents.
Our eating habits aren't just data points on a graph, however. They result in real and severe consequences. With a decrease in healthy eating comes an increase in a variety of serious medical conditions – heart disease, diabetes, and obesity – to name a few. Guess what other health condition is on the rise in America? Arthritis. And it's happening at younger ages than ever before. Long thought by many people to be a condition that "comes with age," more and more research today says there are plenty of health behaviors that we engage in over a lifetime that can increase or decrease our risk of developing arthritis. Physical inactivity is one more risk factor. Beyond age and activity level, another significant factor that increases arthritis risk is body mass index (BMI). The knees of people who are overweight or obese are forced to carry a weight burden that they weren't designed to carry over the course of a lifetime. The result is an accelerated decline in the health of the knee joint and its surrounding cartilage, ligaments, and tissues.
Before you call me a doomsayer, I've got great news. Unlike genetics (which you can't do a whole lot about because you were just born with them), diet and exercise are lifestyle factors when it comes to your health. That means you can control them. You're in the driver's seat! And no matter your age, it is never, ever, too late to start. Make this the year to put foods into your body that power your good health and fuel your future. When it comes to what you should choose to eat, always go for whole ingredients (those not found on a box) whenever possible and incorporate these for significant knee health benefits:
- Richly colored fruits and vegetables – cherries, blueberries, blackberries, and pomegranate seeds are all hailed for anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Dark green leafy vegetables – broccoli, Bok choy, collard greens, and kale are rich in antioxidants, beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and calcium, which help keep bones strong.
- Seeds, nuts, grain, and oils – oatmeal, brown rice, flaxseeds, canola oil (in moderation), and walnuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in countering inflammation in the joints.
- Spices – turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger are known inflammation fighters, with turmeric specifically studied to help ease achy knees.
To summarize, I hope you'll dedicate yourself to some lifestyle changes this year that will help to provide you with a lifetime of active living on healthy knees. As I said in my 2014 book The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit! – the habits we develop in the best of times will be available to us in the worst of times. When we build regular activity and the right nutrition into our lives, we're creating physical conditions that help us unleash the victorious spirit and excel in the sport of life.