The effect of lockdown has changed our lives in many different ways. In terms of health, there have certainly been some positive benefits, with many people vowing to get fitter and healthier. However, it seems many of us are suffering with stiff joints and aches and pains, often down to a more sedentary working life or just generally not moving around as much as usual.
Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, looks at how to ease stiff and aching joints to help you feel a little less locked-up.
While it’s very important to look after joints and muscles on the outside, it’s as important to look within. Diets high in processed red meat, fizzy drinks, alcohol, caffeine and highly refined sugary foods, can create more inflammation within the body which will exacerbate joint issues.
Alcohol, for example, leads to dehydration and affects the nervous system, which can cause stiffness and pain. Additionally, alcohol may increase production of lactic acid, which is also produced after heavy exercise, hence the joint pain. Fizzy drinks cause more acidity generally, depleting the body of calming calcium, which in turn will trigger aches and pains. In short, if your diet is too rich in any of the above, your joints and muscle are going to complain.
What to eat
Try to include plenty of green leafy vegetables in your diet as they’re rich in muscle-relaxing magnesium. Plant-based milks such as almond or oat are fortified with additional calcium, which also helps relax muscles and is less acidic for the body than dairy milk.
Try to limit caffeinated drinks. Go for green tea instead which contains the relaxing amino acid L-theanine. Although green tea does contain a small amount of caffeine, its calming effects balance this and it’s great for the digestive system too. And don’t forget the all-important water; dehydration will cause muscle stiffness quicker than anything, so aim to drink at least 1 ½ to 2 litres of water daily.
Take regular breaks
If you’re working from home and finding yourself trapped on Zoom or Teams meetings all day, the chances are life has become more sedentary. Firstly, why not invest in a stand-up desk? The benefits of having one are well documented; circulation will be better, you’ll burn more calories simply by standing up most of the day, and your digestive system will be much more comfortable if it’s not scrunched up all the time!
It’s also important to move around for at least five minutes every hour or so. Even if it only means doing a few squats, some shoulder rolls, neck twists or ankle circles, it will get circulation moving and help blood flow to the brain. People generally feel very sluggish at the end of each day when they’re too sedentary so make sure you move regularly and stretch out those muscles.
Importantly, as we come out of lockdown, although the day job may still be sedentary, try to step up the exercise. Brisk walking is still one of the best exercises you can do and if you can get some hills into your regime, even better! Try to get out every day for 30 minutes or so.
Nature’s medicine cabinet is packed with wondrous herbs that really help ease stiff and painful joints. First up is devil’s claw, which has a long history of treating pain, especially of the joints. It has a natural anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect. It can be taken very effectively in supplement form.
Boswellia is an ayurvedic herb, also with strong anti-inflammatory effects which stand up well in research against pharmaceutical NSAIDs (such as ibuprofen). Again, boswellia can be taken in supplement form.
Finally to put some real zest into your cooking, grate fresh ginger into as many dishes as you can. Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and will help ease stiff joints and muscles. It’s so versatile in stir-fries, Thai soups and curries and delicious fish recipes. Why not start the day with some freshly grated ginger and squeezed lemon in a glass of warm water to really get you moving!