Skip to main content
How to Keep Joints Healthy as We Age

You are listening to Health Library:

How to Keep Joints Healthy as We Age

Feb 28, 2024

In order to stay active, functional, and doing the things we love as we get older, it's important to protect our joints. Sports medicine specialist Chris Gee, MD, highlights the role of weight management, nutrition, and activity in maintaining your knees and ankles. Learn about research-backed strategies you can use to preserve your mobility and enhance your quality of life as you age.

    This content was originally produced for audio. Certain elements such as tone, sound effects, and music, may not fully capture the intended experience in textual representation. Therefore, the following transcription has been modified for clarity. We recognize not everyone can access the audio podcast. However, for those who can, we encourage subscribing and listening to the original content for a more engaging and immersive experience.

    All thoughts and opinions expressed by hosts and guests are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views held by the institutions with which they are affiliated.


    Interviewer: As we age, maintaining joint health can become increasingly important as it directly impacts our mobility and our overall quality of life. Today, we'll be diving into what we can do to protect and nurture our joints as we age.

    Today, we're talking with Dr. Chris Gee, a sports medicine specialist at University of Utah Health.

    Factors Affecting Joint Health

    Now, Dr. Gee, when it comes to joint health and aging, you know, what are the types of things that people should be aware of as they get, you know, 30s, 40s, 50s, and above, like, to make sure that their joints are the healthiest they can be?

    Dr. Gee: So there's a lot that goes into it, and there's a good part of it that really depends on your genetics, you know, certain families really wear their joints down faster, prior injuries when you were a kid, you know, that ACL when you were in your 20s can definitely have some impact. But there are two major factors that I try to tell people that they can adjust now to try to keep the joints as healthy as possible.

    Weight Management: Impact on Joint Health and Mobility

    Number one is weight. You know, any extra weight that we carry around is just a lot more force that you experience on your knees and your joints. And so I tell people things like a pound of weight on your abdomen is experienced on your knees as about four pounds, so it's about four times the weight.

    Interviewer: Oh, really?

    Dr. Gee: So a little bit of weight loss goes a long way towards taking some force off the knees and helping them feel better.

    Interviewer: The extra weight just wears them out faster, and so those extra pounds just . . .

    Dr. Gee: Exactly.

    Interviewer: Okay. All right. I got you.

    Dr. Gee: Exactly. And so it doesn't have to be that you have to lose 30 pounds. You know? You lose a couple of pounds, and that can actually go a long way towards making them feel better and keeping the joint as healthy as possible.

    Nutrition and Joint Health: Supplements, Anti-Inflammatory Diets, and Natural Remedies

    Interviewer: So nutrition is important. I see a lot of these products, you know, when we're talking about eating healthier, trying to lose some weight and stuff, I see these supplements and products that are saying, "Ah, joint health," right?

    Dr. Gee: Right.

    Interviewer: Do any of those supplements really help keep the joints healthy? Or is it more when it comes to nutrition your actual weight?

    Dr. Gee: Yeah. So when you look at things, probably the ones that are studied the most are glucosamine and chondroitin. Studies haven't shown that it prevents wearing joints out. It doesn't prevent you from needing a joint replacement down the road. There are patients who feel better when they take it, and it's really pretty well tolerated. So it's not a bad thing to try, but it's probably not going to rebuild your joints or cause you to suddenly have the joints of a 20-year-old.

    Interviewer: Sure. Sure.

    Dr. Gee: You know, overall, I tell people probably the best thing is focusing kind of on an anti-inflammatory diet, including things like turmeric in your diet that are natural anti-inflammatories that just keep the joint a little less inflamed and irritated from your daily activities.

    Interviewer: Understood. And that can help, what, prevent arthritis down the line or . . .

    Dr. Gee: Exactly. Yeah, arthritis is basically that the cartilage, the smooth padding in the knee is wearing off, and it gets rough and it catches and pops and causes pain. And so whatever you can do to keep that from getting inflamed actually helps keep the joint moving better and keeps your pain down.

    The other thing you can really focus on in nutrition is just an overall good healthy diet. You know, getting protein and micronutrients and various, you know, vegetables and things like that is actually very helpful for your body and muscles and joints in general. So there's a lot of fad diets out there, and I tell people really you want to have good whole foods, a variety of foods, and probably mostly focusing on vegetables and fruits and grains, and, you know, meat and those things sparingly.

    Exercise and Activity: Maintaining Joint Function and Mobility

    Interviewer: Moving from nutrition to activity, the other element you talked about, why is activity so important when it comes to joint health?

    Dr. Gee: Yeah. So one of the things we've found is that when people maintain a program of just regular routine exercise, they actually do better. So those joints actually want to move. People with arthritis will tell me if they sit around, actually, as they get up, it starts to hurt. But once they get moving, it's like they're lubricating the joint. And so it actually helps to have some activity.

    Interviewer: So when you say activity, are we talking like an hour at the gym, lifting heavy weights? Is it a walk?

    Dr. Gee: So that's a great question. So things like running and squatting on the knees can be kind of hard, and so, you know, impact-related activities, like running, can be tougher on the joints and might cause a little more pain. But it can be as simple as things like walking, biking or swimming. Just something that you enjoy, that you can get out and do on a routine basis is actually going to be helpful. It's going to keep your weight down. It's going to keep your joints as healthy as possible as well.

    Interviewer: When you said that movement lubricates, is it literally lubricating the joints, or is it just kind of keeping things strong and moving around?

    Dr. Gee: It's probably both. You know, there is a little bit of lubricant within the joint, and so as you get up and move it, it actually pumps the nutrients around into the cartilage and so that helps it stay healthy. And then, keeping those muscles strong keeps things balanced around the joint and keeps it feeling better.

    When to Consult a Healthcare Professional

    Interviewer: Now, those are a lot of really great preventative measures. But, Dr. Gee, when should someone, if they are feeling pain, if maybe they've had an injury of some sort, when should they go to a specialist like yourself?

    Dr. Gee: Really, if you start to feel consistent pain in the joint or swelling in a joint, instability, or even caught in a joint, those are all red flags that something might be happening in there. And so that's always a good time to go in and just get it looked at. I also recommend that if you're going to be starting an exercise program, just talk with somebody. Make sure that your joints are healthy enough for that kind of activity and that you're not going to be causing yourself any problems kind of going forward.