Here are five excellent ways to keep your knees as strong, flexible, and happily active as they can be:

Firm up your thighs. It’s like installing shock absorbers for your knees. Strengthening your front and back thigh muscles (quadriceps and hamstrings) helps protect the knee joints from injury. Increasing quad strength can also cut your risk of knee osteoarthritis by up to 30%.

Walk backward. It gives your quads a slightly different workout while going easy on a particularly vulnerable knee zone, the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), a joint connector that women and athletes frequently tear. Have your true love be your spotter, so you don’t trip on bad sidewalks.

Go low-impact. You gotta’ keep moving to improve your range of motion and build the muscles that surround and support your knees. Just don’t pound them (nix pavement running and high-impact aerobics). Instead, go easy with walking, swimming, yoga, biking, elliptical machines or padded treadmills, and weight work. (Get in the mood to shape up and slim down.)

Feed your knees. The inflammation-fighting nutrients in berries, ginger, avocado, flaxseeds, omega-3-rich fish (trout, salmon) or the DHA type of omega-3 supplements all help stifle joint damage. (Discover other tips for eating smart!)

Lose a few. 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. Ouch. (How old are your knee joints, really?)

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