In 2002 10.5 million adults said they battled with severe joint pain due to arthritis and by 2015 it had increased to 15 million adults. At this rate, the government is expecting that number to jump up to 78 million adults by 2040. So why are these numbers increasing so drastically and what can we do to stop it?
Both the decrease in physical activity and the increase in weight gain has forced our joints to take a much bigger beating than they can handle. And due to the impact sitting has had on our posture we can no longer just move more to decrease arthritis. We now have to strength train to fix the muscular imbalances created by our sedentary lifestyle.
You see, our bodies were never meant to sit. Humans used to travel long distances for food up until the agricultural revolution. Movement wasn’t for “exercise”, it was for survival. But now with technology we no longer need to move at all. This lack of movement has led to muscle atrophy or a decrease in muscle mass. And this decrease in muscle mass has led to an increase in joint arthritis because your joints must do the work instead. This leads to joint arthritis over time.
Not only are our muscles getting weaker, but humans are getting heavier. Since the 1990’s the average American has gained about 15 pounds. According to the arthritis foundation, every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on your knees. Ouch. Not only that, but fat tissue also creates and releases chemicals that promote inflammation. Both of which leave overweight people at higher risk of developing arthritis at an even faster rate.
To make things worse, sitting has led to poor posture which has led to severe muscle imbalances. Sitting in the typical “hunched over” position has weakened our hamstrings, glutes, upper and lower back. Subsequently, sitting has tightened up our hip flexors, abs and chest. This has led to severe knee and low back pain. Our heads now shift forward, leading to severe neck and shoulder problems. These imbalances must be fixed to ensure joint health. The tight muscles must be stretched, and the weak muscles must be strengthened. Otherwise these imbalances will pull your joints out of place and lead to an increased rate of joint deterioration.
So how can we decrease the risk of arthritis and severe joint pain?
First, move more. The more you move the more muscle mass you will have and the less weight you will gain. Try to vary the types of activities you do. Different activities strengthen different muscles. If you do the same activities, you will continue to strengthen the same muscles over and over again. This will also lead to muscle imbalances and potential joint deterioration. Don’t just walk. Walk, swim, ride a bike, do the elliptical, do the rowing machine. Any one is better than none, but all is better than some!
Second, stretch more. Some muscles need to be stretched for correct posture. Yoga classes are offered at regular gyms as part of your membership, or yoga studios are available if you prefer smaller classes. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group environment, you can also do 1 on 1 stretching sessions now with a trainer or massage therapist. And at the very least you can find free flexibility videos on Youtube. Make sure you stretch at least every other day; it doesn’t take long for your muscles to tighten up again.
And finally, start strength training. If you are comfortable with the gym, then focus on strengthening every muscle in your body evenly. Focus on strengthening your hips, core and upper back the most. Those are the muscles that have been the most affected by our sedentary lifestyle. If you don’t have any background in strength training, a good place to start is physical therapy. Normally insurance will cover about 10 sessions per year. That’s not enough to get your muscles strong, but they will give you a list of important exercises to get you started. And finally, hire a well-educated personal trainer to help you. Many personal trainer certifications are now geared towards “correctional exercise,” or fixing muscle imbalances so when in doubt, hire a professional.
Muscle isn’t just there to look good. It’s there to help you live a full, healthy life. By sitting less and moving more you are decreasing your risk of joint pain. And if you already have joint pain, call a doctor or physical therapist to get you started immediately. The pain will only get worse over time unless you start taking these steps now. But don’t worry, it is a very fun and rewarding process. And in the meantime, you’ll lose weight and look better in a bathing suit!