The long evenings and warm temperatures (well, we can hope!) encourage many of us to be more active over summer. It’s a great time to take up a new activity, improve our fitness, or lose weight. Yet we must realise the importance of Joint Support!
One of our most popular summer sports is, of course, tennis. Tennis is a fantastic activity. It builds strength, improves cardiovascular fitness, can help to strengthen our bones, improves coordination. It also gets us exercising outside in the sun (for our vitamin D!). Another thing that’s great about tennis is that it has a social element too. It gives us one-to-one time with friends and helping us meet other people, which is so often lacking in today’s technology-driven world.
Tennis can be tough on our joints, especially for those who are not used to impact sports. And it’s not just the older generations who suffer!
Fortunately, there’s plenty we can do to look after our joints naturally, both over the summer and year-round. Here are our top foods and supplement suggestions that can help keep you in action on the courts.
Get plenty of vitamin C
First of all vitamin C is not just important for immunity. It’s also vital for our body to make collagen, which in turn is used to make cartilage – the flexible material that helps to cushion our joints. When cartilage wears away, as in osteoarthritis (‘wear and tear’ arthritis), joints can become very painful.
So where should you get your vitamin C? Ideally not by drinking fruit juices, which contain lots of quickly absorbed sugar (even if it’s just natural fruit sugar) and can end up causing more problems for our health. It’s best to get vitamin C from a range of whole vegetables and fruit. Some of the best sources are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, red cabbage, pepper, kiwi fruits and blackcurrants. Aim for at least the recommended 5 servings of vegetables and fruit per day – although the ideal is more like 7 to 9! The antioxidants in vegetables and fruit also have anti-inflammatory activity, helping to keep pain in check.
Vitamin C supplements can also be supportive for your joints if you struggle to get enough through food.
Eat oily fish
Secondly there is Oily fish. Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and herring contain the all-important omega-3 fats. These fats are known as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). As well as being vital for our eyes, brain and heart, these omega-3 fats have anti-inflammatory activity, and possibly direct pain-relieving activity too. This means eating oily fish could be helpful to manage or reduce joint pain. It could even prevent inflammation that causes sore joints after exercise.
Don’t like fish? A daily fish oil supplement can be a good alternative.
Avoid pro-inflammatory fats
Thirdly Just as it can be helpful to increase your anti-inflammatory omega-3s, it’s equally important to avoid pro-inflammatory fats – the ones that can worsen inflammation. Unfortunately, these are the fats that we’ve long been told are good for us: vegetable oils. In general anything labelled ‘vegetable oil’ is bad news, and other general cooking oils such as sunflower oil or rapeseed oil. Margarines and spreads made with vegetable oils can be even worse because they contain hydrogenatedvegetable oils – oils that have been turned into a solid fat by bubbling hydrogen through them. A lot of processed foods also contain vegetable oils, from cakes to breads to ready meals: another reason to eat more ‘real’ foods and ditch processed foods – especially those that come with a long list of ingredients on the label!
Eat magnesium-rich foods
Next on the list is Magnesium. Magnesium is an important mineral for our muscles and bones. Having good levels of magnesium in your body will help lower inflammation.
So eating magnesium-rich foods can be another good step towards better joint health. These include green vegetables, seeds and nuts, beans and pulses, and whole grains including oats, rye and buckwheat.
Turmeric and ginger
These traditional spices are not only delicious in curries and Asian food; they also have anti-inflammatory activity. Turmeric in particular (or its active component curcumin) has been shown in many studies to help reduce inflammation, and specifically to help to manage joint pain in knee arthritis. Ginger may also help to reduce joint pain and inflammation.
Turmeric and ginger can be used every day in cooking. You can also use either of them to make tea: chop or grate fresh ginger or turmeric root and pour on boiling water (although watch out with fresh turmeric, as it can stain everything!). If you are looking for a healthier alternative to coffee, make yourself a ‘turmetic latte’ with turmeric powsTry making a ‘turmeric latte’ with turmeric powder – it’s become the drink of the moment among those looking for a healthier alternative to coffee. You can also just buy turmeric or ginger tea bags. Or if you have a juicer at home, try making fresh ginger juice and drinking a shot every day. It really packs a punch! Another alternative is to pickle ginger – delicious!
If you struggle to get a daily dose of turmeric or ginger in your food, or you want a more convenient option, try turmeric or curcumin supplements.
Bone broth / collagen
Bone broth is another traditional food that’s become popular as a ‘health food’ again. This is because bones are actually very rich in nutrients, and so properly prepared bone broth (made by simmering animal or fish bones for up to 24 hours or longer) is a natural, easy-to-absorb source of these nutrients, including vital minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Bone broth also provides natural collagen, primarily in the form of gelatin. As mentioned above, collagen is a building block for the cartilage that helps to protect our joints.
Taking collagen in supplement form may also be supportive for joint health. A study found that taking collagen over 6 months reduced joint pain in a group of athletes.
If you’ve ever looked into taking supplements for joint health, you’ve probably heard of glucosamine. Glucosamine is a building-block for making cartilage and synovial fluid in the joints. Taking glucosamine supplements has been found in some studies to be helpful for knee pain, especially in those with a prior injury or with osteoarthritis in the knee. Some studies do not show benefits, however. It’s worth noting too that glucosamine has been found to be effective with doses of at least 1,500mg a day, and that it may take three months or more to work fully. So ideally, this is one to start taking in the spring if you want it to help keep you active over the summer!
Devil’s claw herbal remedy
A traditional herb used for relief in the joints, muscle and back ache would be Devil’s claw.. It has an anti-inflammatory effect. It could be a good choice to help relieve pain more quickly, compared to the longer-term protective effect of collagen or glucosamine.
Lastly we have Arnica Gel. If you experience muscle or joint pain after activity, try a topical arnica gel for additional support. A gel use for muscle pain, stiffness, strains and bruising is Arnica gel. A group of people with arthritis in their hands started using Arnica gel. They found it was as effective as ibuprofen gel for reducing pain.