Wanna be rock-climbing, skateboarding and dancing through the night in your twilight years? It turns out that if you start when you're young and spry, you could actually head off aching joints, a serious burden of aging.
Creeping osteoarthritis is no fun, but with the right moves, weight-watching, injury prevention and maybe even a healthy-joint diet, you can rack up the years in a limber state. Here's the scoop on keeping your connective tissue happy.
What the experts say
"Cod liver oil, fish oil - omega-3 fatty acids - and vitamin D are anti-inflammatory. Take vitamin C, and stay away from sugar and other foods thought to be pro-inflammatory, like dairy products and the nightshade family of vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory. You can add it to cooking. So is ginger root. Chiropractic, osteopathic, acupuncture, massage therapy: anything that improves circulation is important. People should spend more time exercising. If you don't use it, you lose it."
ZOLTAN RONA, MD, author, Osteoarthritis: Treat And Reverse Joint Pain Naturally, Toronto
"There are two myths about osteoarthritis: one, that it's a part of aging; and two, that it's caused by cartilage breakdown. Osteoarthritis can start from damage to any tissue in the joint, not just the cartilage. Once the process is on its way, yes, the cartilage gets broken down and bone's on bone, but it's not the inciting event. In young people, an injury or obesity can put excessive stress on joints. Only two things prevent osteoarthritis: keeping a healthy weight and preventing injury. In Canada, we don't mandate that coaches know how to coach children and adults so they are at reduced risk of experiencing joint injuries."
GILLIAN HAWKER, professor of medicine and rheumatology, Women's College Hospital, U of T
"Rates of severe injury, such as ACL [knee] tears, are higher for women than men playing the same sport, especially basketball, volleyball and soccer. ACL tears and the resulting knee laxity often lead to early osteoarthritis. Female soccer players in their teens who suffer an ACL injury frequently have diagnosable osteoarthritis by age 30, and 34 per cent report some disability. This percentage climbs as they age. Sports that require pivoting, twisting, turning and torquing into unnatural positions are hard on the joints. Stay in good condition; train before you play. Use proper shoes and equipment. Sometimes the symptoms of arthritis don't show up until months or years later."
JASON THEODOSAKIS, MD, author, The Arthritis Cure, Tucson, Arizona
"We studied guinea pigs that spontaneously develop osteoarthritis. Some were fed omega-3 fatty acids and some a standard diet, which is predominantly omega-6. Those fed the omega-3 developed lower, and in some cases undetectable, levels of osteoarthritis as compared to the controls on the standard diet. We also found that omega-3 fatty acids affected the disease at a biochemical level. Our diet is skewed towards omega-6 [nuts, eggs, wheat, corn oil, etc]. Omega-3 is the only drug or supplement to show efficacy in spontaneous osteoarthritis in this way."
JOHN TARLTON, University of Bristol, department of veterinary sciences, England
"Our study showed that people who wore a magnetic bracelet of 180-millitesla strength reported less pain from osteoarthritis of the hip and knee than those who used a dummy one. The effect size was about the same as taking a conventional painkiller. No-one knows how it works. There could be a placebo effect. There might be conventional explanations such as ionized fluid (blood) flowing through a magnetic field at the wrist. There might be other explanations, such as action on meridians of energy important in traditional Chinese medicine."
TIM HARLOW, MD, College Surgery, Cullompton, Devon, England