6 Simple Habits To Build Stronger Joints
By: Dave Asprey
January 26, 2017
Humans are built to move. Your body thrives when you put it through physical challenges. Using the hundreds of joints and muscles that make up your biology keeps everything running smoothly.
That doesn’t mean you have to dead-lift 400 pounds or run a marathon. We’re not all Olympians. But in the modern world, it’s far too easy to sit at a desk all day, slowly losing your ability to move the way evolution intended. Muscles tighten, joints become brittle, cartilage starts to wear thin, and chronic pain sets in. Globally, 60-70% of adults in industrialized countries have chronic back pain . That’s not normal, and you shouldn’t accept it. My good friend Mark Sisson puts it well: “Live long, drop dead.” You can move like a well-oiled machine, free of pain, your entire life.
One of the keys is building resilient joints. You probably strengthen your muscles (if you don’t, here and here are two great ways to start). Strengthening your connective tissue doesn’t sound quite as sexy, but strong, flexible joints improve every aspect of your life. You’ll be more limber, leaner, stronger, faster, and more resilient to injury. And if you’re big into exercise, you’ll be amazed by how much more you can deadlift when your ankles aren’t tight, and how many pounds a flexible spine will add to your squat.
Here are 6 simple ways to build resilient joints. Pick whichever ones appeal to you, or try them all. Enjoy.
1) Walk more
Walk whenever you have the option. Walking compresses and decompresses your ankle and knee joints, sending your cartilage nutrients that keep it elastic. Walking also boosts your production of synovial fluid, an egg white-like substance that keeps your joints lubricated and prevents pain .
Take the stairs. Leave the car and stroll to work. Go on a hike with your dog. Go on a hike with yourself. Get out and move whenever possible, every day. It’s one of the easiest ways to keep your body strong. Bonus points if you turn your walk into a meditation.
2) Go barefoot
Or wear minimalist shoes, if your office isn’t too accepting of your biohacking habits. Cushioned heels shorten your Achilles tendon and change the alignment of your ankles . Stand up right now, barefoot, raise your heel a couple inches off the ground, and watch your calf muscle. You’ll notice that raising your heel shortens your calves, and that your knee comes forward to compensate, which pulls on your quadriceps, which pulls on your hamstrings, which…
You get the idea. An inch of padding under your heel may not seem like much, but when you compound it over thousands of steps a day for decades, you can see how a stacked heel pulls you out of alignment.
Barefoot walking and running, on the other hand, make your movements slightly more economical  and make you more resilient to injury . Running in minimalist shoes increases stabilizer muscles in your feet and improves arch structure, too .
But be aware: You can stress your joints during the transition from shoes to barefoot . Don’t go out and run 5 miles barefoot tonight, or you could injure yourself. Give your joints time to adjust to the larger range of motion. Start by walking around in minimalist shoes daily (it’s a perfect excuse to incorporate the first biohack on this list) and build your way up over a few weeks. Your ankles and knees will thank you in the long run.
Which shoes are best? I like my Vibram FiveFingers. If you want a more socially acceptable option, good old Chuck Taylors have zero-drop heels and are about $20. They may not give you the full benefits of a more minimalist choice, but they’re better than standard running or dress shoes.
3) Supplement with collagen and vitamin C
Collagen protein is rich in glycine, lysine, and proline, the three amino acids your body uses to make its own collagen . Vitamin C (in its ascorbic acid form) is an essential part of collagen synthesis, too. Pair high-quality, grass-fed, hydrolyzed collagen and ascorbic acid to stock your body with the building blocks it needs to build stronger joints. Your hair, teeth, skin, and nails become stronger, too.
4) Sit less
People who sit more die sooner . Plus, the more you sit, the more pain you’ll be in while you are alive. Sitting reduces blood flow, keeping precious nutrients from reaching your joints, and functionally shortens your tendons and ligaments, which puts more stress on your joints when you move. Sitting is especially bad for your lower back, hips, and knees. If you have pain in one of those areas, sitting less will probably help.
Okay. So stop sitting. That’s all well and good, but what if you work at a computer all day?
One option is a standing desk. I use one from StandDesk that alternates between standing and sitting modes at the press of a button. Pretty nifty. You can also just stack a couple boxes on your desktop until your computer rests at standing height.
If you don’t want to do the standing desk thing, set a timer to go off every 20 minutes during the work day. When the alarm sounds, stand up and shake your legs. Do a few squats or pushups. Stretch out. Dance like your puzzled coworkers aren’t watching. They already think you’re weird for putting butter in your coffee. Might as well add some office aerobics to the mix.
5) Stretch and roll out your muscles
If you’re doing heavy exercise without stretching, it’s only a matter of time before you injure yourself – especially if you’re sedentary for most of the day. Going from cold muscles right to CrossFit puts intense stress on your tendons and ligaments.
Take the time to stretch out and use a foam roller, or do yoga. All the shortened muscle fibers that have been sleeping while you stay still all day will wake up and start firing together. You’ll take stress off your joints, and you’ll perform better in the gym.
Kelly Starrett is one of the best mobility experts in the world. He has dozens of free videos showing you how to stretch/foam roll every part of your body. You can listen to him talk about mobility on Bulletproof Radio, too.
6) Use static back to realign your spine and posture
The static back pose uses gravity to realign your spine in 10 minutes a day. It places your shoulders in line with your hips to allow the muscles in your lower back to release, thanks to a combination of gravity and your own body weight. As your muscles release, the rotation in your pelvis and torso will also begin to fall into line.
How to perform static back:
- Lie with your back on the floor, your feet and calves elevated on a chair, table, or blocks, with knees bent at 90 degrees. The backs of your knees should be flush with the edge of the block or chair so the legs are fully supported. This is the only you will be able to fully release these muscles.
- Your arms should be in line with your shoulders, palms facing up.
- Once you’re in position, take several full, deep breaths. No phones, no distractions. Take this opportunity to chill out.
- Stay in position until your lower back and hips are settled flush with the floor. Or, you can set a timer for about 5 minutes. If your back and hips don’t settle to the floor, don’t worry. Just keep doing this for 5-10 minutes every day.
Spend a few minutes a day taking care of your joints. They’re an often overlooked part of your biology; strengthen them and you’ll improve every aspect of your physical performance. Thanks for reading and have a great week!
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