For as long as you have lived, your knees have carried you through walking, dancing, stair climbing, and more. But, this has a downside too: The cartilage needed for smooth, painless movement may have worn out. Frequent knee pain is reported in nearly a quarter of women over age 60, according to a survey by the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. But your knees can be protected and the discomfort can be prevented by developing muscle strength, stability, and range of motion.
Here is an easy 10-minute plan designed by Mike Robertson, an Indianapolis-based personal trainer who lectures on knee biomechanics. You can set it up at the end of your regular workout, or do it alone. Aim to complete these four gentle but effective moves twice a week for at least 12 weeks. You will soon get more spring in your step—and even the urge to jump and jog!
Workout at a Glance
You will need 3- to 5-pound dumbbells, a resistance band, and a fitness bench (the bottom step on a flight of stairs also works)
Do 1 to 3 sets of each exercise. (The routine takes 10 to 20 minutes, depending how many sets you choose.) If you want to warm up, march in place for 3 to 5 minutes.
Do it to strengthen the gluteus medius. It is the hip muscles used when you move legs sideways.
Lie on left side with knees slightly bent, heels together. Rest head on left arm and look straight ahead. Hold a 3- to 5-pound weight on outside of right thigh. Keeping feet together and abs tight, squeeze butt and raise top leg (knee pointing up) as high as possible without rocking body as you lift. Keep butt tight as you lower leg to starting position; repeat. Complete 1 set of 15 reps before switching legs.
Work the quads and hamstrings to stabilize and support the knee with this exercise.
Stand behind a sturdy bench or step (6 to 12 inches high) and place right foot flat on top of it, making sure heel is not hanging off edge. For a greater challenge, hold a 5-pound weight in each hand or raise height of step. Shift weight to right foot and raise body; touch toe of left foot to top of step. Hold for 1 to 5 seconds, keeping most of body weight on right leg. Lower left foot and lightly tap floor; repeat. Complete 8 to 12 reps for 1 set, and then switch legs.
Work your glutes with the bridge. Glutes are the butt muscles that keep knees aligned properly
Lie on back with knees bent, feet hip-width apart and flat on floor. Rest arms at sides. Squeeze butt and slowly raise hips and back off floor in one smooth motion. Lower slowly and repeat. Do 15 reps for 1 set.
Keep your hamstrings and calf muscles flexible to maintain good range of motion with leg stretch.
Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat on floor. Extend left leg and loop a band, towel, or belt around bottom of left foot, holding ends of band in each hand. Use band to pull leg toward chest, aiming to get foot directly above hips to stretch back of thigh. Keeping leg straight without locking knee, flex foot and pull down on band to point toes toward floor and stretch calf. Hold stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. If you feel any pain, decrease the intensity of the stretch by bending knee or relaxing foot slightly. Lower and repeat. Do 3 to 5 reps, and then switch legs.
Do cardio to fight pain: A study of 176 women with no history of knee problems found that those who got their heart rate up for 20 minutes at least once every 2 weeks had more joint-cushioning cartilage than women who were sedentary.
Take a supplement if you should: In a 2001 study, women who took 1,500 mg of glucosamine daily for 3 years showed no wear and tear in the knee, while women who didn't take the pills had significant damage. However, recent research found that people who took glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, or both daily for 6 months reported the same amount of pain as those who didn't pop pills. Still interested? The supplements are generally considered safe.
Eat lots of veggies: People with higher levels of vitamin K (in peas and broccoli) had fewer osteoarthritis symptoms than people who were deficient, found research from Boston University School of Medicine.
Word of caution: If you've previously injured your knees or if you experience knee pain during daily activity, consult your doctor or a specialist before performing these exercises.
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