A person hold their shoulder and stretches it out.
Achy joints? Figure out what you’re doing right (and wrong) to help preserve your way of life. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Achy joints? Sharp pain from the knee? How about your hips? Hands?

We often take our joints for granted through our childhood and early adult years, but eventually the clock catches up with us. All of the sudden, we hurt. And we’re trying to figure out what we did to ourselves.

Before you get to that point, it’s time to take stock and figure out ways to keep the aches at bay.

Charles Sherry, DO, section chief for the Spectrum Health adult joint reconstruction department, offers preventive advice for keeping joints healthy and pain-free.

10 things you can (and should) do right now:

1. Watch your weight

Numero uno on the list of being kind to your joints is maintaining a healthy body weight.

“We see a correlation in patients being overweight and patients developing arthritis in the body,” Dr. Sherry said. “A lot of things we can’t modify, like genetics. But there are a lot of things we can modify, like body weight.”

If patients are having trouble losing weight on their own, Dr. Sherry will send them to a Spectrum Health dietitian for assistance.

“There are bariatric surgery programs for patients who are really having difficulty or are having excessive weight issues,” he said. “The average patient needs to lose 20 or 30 pounds.”

2. Exercise daily

“I’m a big advocate of daily exercise,” Dr. Sherry said. “Exercise ties into the weight loss. Maintain healthy muscle strength, which ultimately builds muscle to help support the joints and reduce stress on your joints. Maintain healthy exercise habits and build good strength in the body.”

3. Focus on low-impact exercises

Dr. Sherry recommends swimming, biking, elliptical machines and walking. This makes for a great exercise regimen.

“Swimming is great exercise,” he said. “Get that exercise in that’s non-high-impact. Just walking is kind of what we encourage. Get out there walking and stay active. I think weight training is very beneficial and strengthening those muscles around the joints.”

4. Avoid high-impact activities

High-impact activities, such as jumping, or running, can put extra stress on your hips and knees.

“I’m a former runner, but I quit running because it puts a lot of stress on the knees, hips and lower back,” Dr. Sherry said. “I switched my exercise over to biking, swimming, daily walks and elliptical machines.”

5. Modify your exercise classes

“With cardio classes and Zumba, you’re still doing a lot of high-impact activities in those types of classes,” Dr. Sherry said. “A lot of my patients like the classes, but they have significant problems with some of the activities. Do the classes, but modify so you’re not doing as much high-impact stuff. Those classes are good, but modify your activities to limit the stress on the joints and limit the pain you have.”

6. Stretch

“Stretch to maintain flexibility in the joints,” Dr. Sherry said. “Stiff joints can lead to increased stress in the joints, which can lead to problems, pain and different disorders. The idea is to keep those joints flexible by keeping those joints moving. Keep a full range of motion to maximize function.”

7. Listen to your body

“I always tell my patients to listen to your body when you’re doing exercises or activities,” Dr. Sherry said. “The older mentality was to fight through it—no pain, no gain. If you’re doing these activities and are having pain, back off and modify it. Listen to what your joints are telling you. Limit stress and pain.”

If you do experience pain, apply ice.

8. Count your calcium

“There are no great studies that any sort of supplements or foods maintain good joint function,” Dr. Sherry said. “But I always tell my patients to maintain healthy bones by getting adequate amounts of calcium. For menopausal women, their needs for calcium can increase. I always tell my patients to consult with their primary care doctor to determine the proper amount of calcium.”

9. Try omega 3 fatty acids

“There has been some talk about omega-3 fatty acids that can help reduce joint pain and change levels of inflammation around the body,” Dr. Sherry said. “Our studies haven’t validated any joint preservation, but I have patients who swear by them. They won’t hurt you. If you want to take them, go ahead.”

10. Don’t worry about weather watching

Some people complain about joint pain with changes in the weather.

“There’s no real great data supporting or dissuading it,” Dr. Sherry said. “I do have patients who can have increased joint pain when there’s a change in barometric pressure. Make sure you’re staying active and stretching those joints out.”