by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN
You might not think about cartilage every day, but it’s a part of your body that’s incredibly important to keep healthy. Cartilage is a type of tissue that cushions the ends of bones and helps to protect them from rubbing against each other. It also helps enable movement in joints like elbows, knees, ankles, and shoulders.
Cartilage doesn’t have its own blood supply, so it can’t heal itself when injured — as opposed to things like muscles and bones. That’s why it’s important to train your cartilage so you don’t lose any more of it than necessary over time.
As we get older, our bodies produce less collagen, which keeps us from regenerating new cartilage when it’s damaged by injury or disease. This can lead to arthritis, osteoarthritis, and other joint disorders.
The good news is that there are many ways to strengthen your joints and keep them healthy for years to come.
7 Tips to Keep Your Cartilage Healthy
There are many things you can do on a daily basis that will help keep your cartilage hydrated and healthy. Here are seven tips you should start implementing today to train and feed your cartilage.
1. Hydration is the key
It’s no secret that staying properly hydrated is key to maintaining overall health and wellness. But did you know that staying well-hydrated also helps keep your cartilage healthy? When you don’t have enough water in your system, the body pulls water from other areas — including the joint space — which can lead to decreased joint cushioning and increased friction between bones. So, drink up! Your joints will thank you for it.
2. Consume extra collagen or gelatin
Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body, and its main function is to provide structure and strength to your connective tissue. It’s also found in cartilage, where it contributes to joint health by maintaining the elasticity and flexibility of the tissue.
Gelatin is made from collagen, so eating more of it will increase the amount of this protein in your diet without having to take supplements or injections.
There might not be a lot of conclusive studies showing collagen rebuilding or strengthening cartilage, but we have some pretty solid info to share. One study on athletes who experience joint pain found that supplementing with collagen can improve their symptoms.
And more recently, a study found that giving dietary collagen (found in foods like chicken and fish) alongside Tylenol improved joint pain and function over Tylenol alone.
3. Move around as much as you can
Your joints need movement to stay healthy and strong. So, if you want to keep moving for years to come, it’s crucial that you exercise regularly.
Exercise provides physical activity that helps keep your joints flexible, strong, and healthy. It also increases blood flow to your joints which helps remove waste products from them. But it doesn’t have to be intense cardio workouts or gym sessions — simple activities like walking or gardening can be just as effective at keeping your joints healthy.
4. Go for a run out in nature
Sun exposure has been linked to healthy cartilage in older adults. Natural surroundings have been shown to reduce stress, lowering cortisol — a known hindrance to cartilage repair.
In addition to that, fresh air aids a healthy immune response, and since few forms of arthritis are autoimmune disorders, it is a vital component of full-body health.
5. Get enough sleep
Our body repairs and regenerates itself when we sleep. That is because growth hormones are released most readily at night. These hormones play an essential role in repairing cartilage. Hence, it makes sense why getting good sleep after vigorous training or any injury is so important.
We all need sleep when we are working out to repair the damage that we have done to our cartilage.
6. Use a full range of motion when you’re lifting
When you exercise, make sure you move through a full range of motion — don’t just go halfway down or three-quarters of the way up on your lifts. This will help strengthen the muscles around your joints and keep them mobile. It’ll also improve circulation in the area and increase blood flow to help repair damaged tissue faster after an injury occurs.
Deep squats are easier on the knees and make them more resilient than half or quarter-squats.
7. Take omega-3s and limit excessive intake of omega-6s
Proven to improve symptoms of cartilage degradation and arthritis, omega-3s are a great addition to your diet. Sardines and salmon are good sources, but any wild-caught and fatty fish is teeming with it.
Alongside that, while nuts and avocados are decent sources of omega-6, it is best to avoid high PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) as they have excess omega-6. By balancing omega-3 and omega-6 consumption, you can keep your cartilage from breaking down.