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How to protect your joints as you get older

What can you do to help prevent arthritis?

Arthitis can affect young and old people, but your your best chances of avoiding arthritis is when you are healthy, mobile, and pain-free. There's no sure way to prevent arthritis, but you do have some control over your joint health.

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What causes arthritis?

Arthritis simply means inflammation and pain in one or more of your joints - the areas connecting two bones that allow you to move various parts of your body. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions, each with their own root causes and associated risk factors.

These are some common forms of arthritis:

  • Osteoarthritis (OA) - a degenerative joint disease that causes painful and stiff joints - wear and tear.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) - an autoimmune disease that causes joint pain and inflammation which damages your joints over time.

  • Gout - having too much uric acid in your bloodstream causes periodic attacks of joint pain and swelling.

  • Septic arthritis - an infection in a joint that causes redness, heat, swelling, pain and tenderness - often this can be accompanied by a fever. This would always need to be seen by a doctor straightaway.

Can you prevent arthritis?

There is no sure way to prevent arthritis, but you can lead a lifestyle that reduces your chances of developing the condition and delays the onset of certain types of arthritis.

Arthritis can't always be avoided, because some risk factors are not modifiable - there isn't anything you can do about them. For example, you can't change your genetic profile:

  • Females are at a higher risk.

  • Having a family history of the condition puts you at a higher risk.

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Reducing your risk - healthy lifestyle habits

Arthritis prevention focuses on what you can control - the habits and behaviours in your day-to-day life that you can change to reduce your risk, or delay the onset, of this condition.

If you have healthy joints now, take good care of them and help protect against future pain and immobility by following these joint-friendly rules.

Maintain a healthy weight

Osteoarthritis (OA) generally develops in people over 50 years of age. However, obesity is the main modifiable risk factor for OA1 that can cause people of younger age to experience the arthritis symptoms of joint pain and stiffness. This is because carrying excess body weight places extra pressure and stress on your joints. At the same time, an increase in fat cells promotes inflammation.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise is a common treatment for types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA)2. The Centers for Disease Control and Preventiton also recommends physical activity as an effective way to help prevent arthritis3. Low-impact exercise limits wear and tear while helping to keep your joints strong, as well as the bones and muscles surrounding and supporting them.

Follow a healthy diet

The benefits of a healthy diet are almost endless, but one form of arthritis that diet plays a particularly important role in is gout4. This condition is caused by an excess of uric acid in your bloodstream, and what you eat can contribute to this.

Food rich in purines - such as offal, game, and marmite - as well as sweetened foods and drinks can all produce a lot of uric acid. As a rule, eating a variation of the main food groups, getting most of your sugar from fruits, and limiting highly processed foods is a great way to protect your joints,general health, and prevent arthritis.

Quit smoking

Smoking is the most significant modifiable risk factor for RA5, a form of arthritis that causes inflammation in joints because your immune system mistakenly attacks your own healthy tissues. Smoking triggers inflammation and may also cause your body to make anti-CCP antibodies, a protein specific to the development of RA.

Limit alcohol

Alongside certain foods, alcohol can also raise your uric acid levels and trigger a gout attack. Alcohol stimulates the production of this chemical in your liver, and beer in particular contains large quantities of purines, contributing further to uric acid production. One study confirmed that regular beer drinkers had a greater risk of gout compared to those who drink equivalent amounts of wine and spirits4.

Protect against sports injuries

Although sports injuries are accidental, warming up before playing and wearing proper safety equipment - such as supportive footwear and knee pads - could help prevent arthritis caused by joint damage. One of the main causes of OA in people under 50 years is prior sports joint injuries such as ACL (anterier cruciate ligament) and meniscus tears in the knee6.

Further reading

  1. Kularni et al: Obesity and osteoarthritis.

  2. Metsios and Kitas: Physical activity, exercise and rheumatoid arthritis: effectiveness, mechanisms and implementation.

  3. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control: Physical activity for arthritis.

  4. UK Gout Society: all about gout and diet.

  5. Chang et al: Smoking and rheumatoid arthritis.

  6. Arthritis Foundation: Osteoarthritis.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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