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Nutrition

Could Your Habits Be Putting You at Risk for Arthritis?

Adopting healthier habits now could save you pain down the road.

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Arthritis is a problem for older people, so you don’t have to worry, right? Not quite. About 1 in 4 Americans have arthritis, and more than half of those folks are between ages 18 and 64, according to the CDC. What’s more, your habits now can set the stage for how arthritis could affect you when you’re older.

Scientists think that the most common type of arthritis, called osteoarthritis, may be brought on by a combo of your genes and lifestyle. While you can’t change your DNA, there are healthy habits you can adopt now to protect your joints throughout your lifetime.

Practice good posture. Doing certain movements—like kneeling while you play with your kids, or standing all day for work—can put stress on your joints and cause pain in the short term, and increase your risk of developing arthritis in the long term. Instead of kneeling, sit upright when you’re playing on the floor, and when you go to pick up your little one, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat down to lift him up. Keep your core muscles tight as you press up with your thigh muscles. Your legs—not your back—should do the work. When standing, keep your shoulders back and head in line with your body. Your knees should be soft, with your weight mostly on the balls of your feet.

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is one of the biggest osteoarthritis risk factors. Each extra pound of weight adds 4 pounds of stress to your knees. That may cause the wear and tear on your joints that adds up to arthritis. One study found that being overweight or obese increases the risk of hand, knee, and hip osteoarthritis. Exercise is also a good way to maintain healthy joints.

Put safety first. A joint that’s been injured is seven times more likely to develop arthritis than one that hasn’t. To protect yourself from fractures, dislocations, and tears, wear the right protective gear when you’re playing sports or hopping on your kid’s bike as you teach her how to ride. When it comes to exercise or physical labor around the house, take breaks when you need them. This can keep you from hurting yourself or overworking your joints. 

Eat plenty of fiber. A diet high in the rough stuff helps you feel full (which can help you maintain a healthy weight) and helps keep your blood sugar levels healthy. One recent study in the U.K. found that getting a higher intake of fiber was associated with a lower risk of developing osteoarthritis. The recommended dietary allowance of fiber is 28 grams, which you can get from healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains.