Healthy Habits for Bone and Joint Health

If you’re over the age of 18, there’s a 50-50 chance you’re affected by musculoskeletal (bone and joint) conditions. In fact, the Burden of Musculoskeletal Conditions in the United States found 54% of Americans deal with these issues. 

These ailments are the most frequent cause of chronic pain and physical disability in the world. So, what do they entail? Anything from back pain and osteoporosis to arthritis. Back/neck pain is the most prevalent musculoskeletal condition Americans suffer from, as 101.3 million adults from a 2015 study said they dealt with these disorders, according to The Burden of Musculoskeletal Conditions. Arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia), meanwhile, affects more than 50 million U.S. adults, according to a 2015 study.

Pain and suffering are only the beginning. From 2012-14, that same study estimated $980 billion in annual costs dedicated to bone and joint health treatments and lost wages. 

We’re not here to fear monger, though. We’re here to help. With a few simple tips and tweaks to your diet and exercise regime, you can get ahead of the curve and not become another number. In honor of Bone and Joint Action Week held in October, here are some pointers to keep you healthy. We also included various stretches/exercises you can do daily to promote bone and joint health.

Bone and joint action week

Each October, the U.S. Bone and Joint Initiative sponsors Bone and Joint Action Week. The initiative, which is a subset of the Global Alliance for Musculoskeletal Health, created a series of five days to help deal with the growing burden of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries.

Throughout the week, which runs from Oct. 12-20, a different day is dedicated to arthritis, back pain, trauma, pediatric conditions, and osteoporosis. The goal is for the general public to learn more about prevention, disease management, and treatment.

  • October 12 — World Arthritis Day
    • Established in 1996, this day focuses on people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases from around the world.
  • October 16 — World Spine Day
    • This helps promote back health by stressing the importance of physical activity and postural health. Your back connects to many body parts that are vital for our everyday health.
  • October 17 — World Trauma Day
    • The goal here is to raise awareness about trauma-related injuries and how lives can be altered with effective intervention following an accident.
  • October 19 — World Pediatric Bone and Joint (PB&J) Day
    • Many musculoskeletal conditions begin in childhood. This day helps educate health care providers and the public about issues children face.
  • October 20 — World Osteoporosis Day
    • Osteoporosis can lead to debilitating pain and life-threatening fractures. Early prevention and awareness are key here, as the global campaign pushes for people to take bone health assessment to see if you’re at risk.

Habits to Keep You Healthy

Bone and joint health are all about practicing strong daily habits, starting with your diet. Your body needs nutrients and vitamins to function. Your bones and joints are no different. 

You should be aware of your calcium and vitamin D intake, as these two work together and are crucial to bone health. Our bodies don’t produce calcium, so we need to be wise about the food choices we make to receive the proper daily intake. Our body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Therefore, low levels of vitamin D don’t allow for proper calcium intake, which prevents strong bone growth. 

There’s a reason our parents used to tell us to drink our milk when we were young. An 8-ounce glass of milk provides 30% of our daily calcium needs (adults ages 18-50 need 1,000 milligrams per day). Inadequate calcium intake can be associated with low bone mass. Weak, fragile bones can lead to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, in turn, can lead to fractures, and these injuries require more hospitalizations than heart attacks, strokes, and breast cancer combined. Supplements can help make up for low levels of calcium if necessary. And, it’s not just needed for bone health. Your heart, muscles, and nerves need calcium to reach optimal performance. 

Vitamin D is most commonly absorbed through your skin from sunlight and from your food. When you think of calcium, milk and dairy products (yogurt and cheese) come to mind. There are plenty of other sources, though. Here are a few to keep in mind:

Foods with Calcium

  • Chia seeds or flax seeds — A spoonful of these in your morning yogurt can provide up to a fifth of your daily calcium intake.
  • Beans and lentils — Beans are a great way to boost fiber intake, but they carry other benefits like protein and calcium.
  • Almonds — Two tablespoons of almonds can cover 10% of your daily calcium intake.
  • Dark, leafy greens like collard greens, spinach, and kale — Kale is a popular superfood and one of the best sources of vitamins. A cup of kale gives you 134% of your daily calcium intake.

Foods with Vitamin D

  • Fatty fish like tuna and salmon — Something as simple as a tuna fish sandwich can provide almost half the daily recommended amount of vitamin D. A 3-ounce serving boasts 40% of your daily value.
  • Oysters — Not only are oysters low in fat and calories, but a half dozen raw oysters provide 67% of your recommended vitamin D. Plus, they provide 4% of your daily value of calcium.
  • Shrimp — These crustaceans provide similar benefits as oysters. A 3-ounce serving of raw shrimp gives you 32% of your daily vitamin D.
  • Fortified foods — Rotate orange juice, cereal, or oatmeal in your diet. These foods have added nutrients to boost your vitamin intake. Take, for example, orange juice. One cup has 50% of your daily recommended calcium intake and 35% of your daily vitamin D. Pair it with instant oatmeal for breakfast, a quick snack that provides 19% of the daily amount of calcium. 

A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D is one of many vital components to your bone and joint health. WebMD provided a list of nine tips to help with future joint problems. Additional tips include:

  • Watch your weight
  • Exercise several times a week
  • Build muscles to support joints
  • Develop a strong core to aid stability
  • Know your limits and don’t overdo it
  • Remind yourself of good posture when sitting/standing
  • Protect your body to protect joints by wearing helmets and proper equipment
  • Ice joints to reduce inflammation

Exercise Tips and Stretches for Bone and Joint Health

Staying active is the best way to improve bone and joint health. Depending on age and physical limitations, not everyone can run a marathon or bike 50 miles at a time. Simple range of motion exercises performed daily can help keep joints mobile and loose. Strengthening exercises can provide relief from the tension our bodies endure daily. Low-impact aerobics, such as walking, using an elliptical machine, or swimming are ideal for breaking a sweat and getting your heart rate up. Water exercises are easier on joints and bones since body weight is reduced.


Here’s a list of stretches and exercises you can perform at your home or in your office: 

  • Arm circles — Start out with something basic to get your heart rate elevated. With your feet shoulder-width apart, raise your arms to shoulder height and your palms facing down. Start by making small circles with your arms, gradually building up to large circles. Perform these circles for 10 seconds, then switch directions by going backward. Complete three sets per side. 
  • Ankle circles — Sit on the edge of a chair and extend one leg away from your body. Move your foot clockwise five times and counterclockwise an additional five times. Switch legs to perform on the other foot. Repeat three times. 
  • Shoulder rolls — Stand straight with your arms at your side. Slowly roll your shoulders forward 10 times. Roll them back 10 times. Repeat three times each. 
  • Hamstring stretch — While lying on your back, keep one leg bent and straighten the other in the air by placing your hands behind your thigh. You should get your leg as close to a 90-degree angle with the floor as possible. You’ll feel a stretch behind your knee/leg. Hold this position for 30 seconds to a minute and switch legs. You can perform this on the ground or your bed if you’re unable to bend. Alternatively, you can sit in a chair or at the edge of the bed with both knees bent. Extend one leg, resting on your heel as your toes point to the sky. Gently bend at the hips until you feel a stretch in the back of the knee/leg. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and repeat on each leg three to four times. 
  • Knee to chest stretch — While lying on your back and feet extended out, bend one knee and pull your leg to your chest using both hands. You should feel slight tension in your lower back. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and switch legs. Perform three times per leg. 
  • Piriformis stretch — Once again on your back with your knees bent, cross your ankle over the top of the opposite knee, making a square with your legs. Place your hands behind your leg and gently pull toward your chest. You should feel a deep stretch in your hip/glute area. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute and switch legs. Repeat up to three times. 
  • Doorway stretch — Find a doorway and place your hands on either side with one foot in front of the other. Slowly inch your way through the doorway, slightly leaning forward to use your body weight to create tension. You should feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat three times. 
  • Child’s pose — This popular yoga stretch is ideal for relieving tension and loosening cranky back muscles. Start on your hands and knees and slowly extend your arms forward as you sit with your hips back toward your heels. Drop your head and chest to the floor as you continue to reach forward with your arms until you feel a stretch. Hold 30 seconds to a minute. Repeat three times. 
  • Cat/cow stretch — Begin on your hands and knees with your back parallel to the ground. Tuck your head and arch your upper back up like a cat. Hold for five seconds. Slowly lift your head toward the sky and drop your chest to the floor. Hold for five seconds. Repeat 10 times. 
  • Pelvic tilt — Start on your back with your knees bent. Relax your back into its natural position before tightening your core by tilting your pelvis upward to push your back into the ground. If you’re wondering if you’re properly engaging your core, pretend you're preparing for a punch to the stomach. Perform three sets of 10-12 repetitions. 
  • Bridges — Once you complete your pelvic tilt, stay in the same position on your back with your knees bent. Extend your arms toward your heels. Press your feet into the ground and lift your hips off the ground, ensuring you keep your core engaged and don’t arch your back. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions. 
  • Planks — Get on your elbows and toes for this core strengthening exercise. Start in a pushup position and drop onto your forearms with your elbows underneath your shoulders. Hold steady by engaging your core and squeezing your glutes. Start with 30 seconds and work up to one to two minutes. 

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