JOINT HEALTH, not a sexy topic, is often neglected in our discussions about health and fitness, But make no mistake about it: Ignore your joints and they will cause you grief.

Many, if not most, people (me included) are initially motivated to exercise purely out of vanity - the search for that elusive, so-called perfect physique. Thing is, it's all an illusion. Whether you are Rubenesque, slender, or somewhere in between, your primary focus should not be about conforming to fashion or someone else's ideals of beauty.

Focus instead on what you can do with your body. Can you run up a flight of stairs without being winded or in pain? Can you kneel on the floor and tie your shoes? Can you get that suitcase into the overhead compartment? When it comes to health and fitness, function invariably trumps form.

Maintaining good joints and overall health is a far more beneficial and sustainable fitness goal than a mere vanity project. Sure, you may shed a few pounds and look better in a bikini, but, more important, regular exercise strengthens bones and heart, lowers blood pressure, helps manage depression, builds confidence, and improves quality of life.

Have you ever wondered why elite athletes (like recently retired Kobe Bryant), ballerinas, and circus performers have to retire young? One of the main reasons is joint health. Twenty years of high-performance athleticism really takes a toll.

And when it comes to us mere mortals, it is estimated that more than 80 million Americans suffer daily from pain-related conditions - and an estimated 40 percent of those are related to joint pain, according to the American Pain Foundation. Those statistics are not based exclusively on the elderly. When it comes to joint health, in many cases, 30 is more like the new 50.

Forget about being a weekend warrior, but do get off the couch.

A balanced and sensible approach should be the aim, because exercise is good for you even if you have cranky knees and achy elbows.

Being active is the best way to keep bones and joints well-oiled and working. Not only does regular exercise strengthen joints, it decreases pain and improves balance. As your body ages, that last benefit really becomes important in helping to avoid falls that might cause injury or death.

The best way to protect joints is to surround them with strong muscles. So, yeah, you know what I'm going to say next - strength training, strength training, strength training!

At least twice a week, hit all your major muscle groups: Legs, arms, and core. For exercise ideas, read my latest column, "Transform your body with just 4 moves!" at

Rev up the heart, too
Cardiovascular exercise is an important part of maintaining good joint health. Rev up your heart regularly (by that I mean most days of the week) with stair climbing, dancing, hiking, walking, swimming, or biking. For those suffering serious joint pain, swimming and stationary bikes are excellent alternatives.

The combination of strength training and cardiovascular training will also help preserve bone density, increase muscle mass, and decrease pain.

Don't neglect your joint health, and never again let joint pain be an excuse not to exercise. Get moving to feel great and pain-free!

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.


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