Man walking in field

Staying active is an important part of looking after our health and wellbeing. As we age, knee problems can affect our ability to perform some of our daily activities with the same ease. Discomfort in our joints can make staying active harder to achieve. The most common cause of knee pain in later life is of course osteoarthritis, which is a natural degeneration of the cartilage that protects the knees.

While there are a lot of medications, topical treatments and even surgical procedures out there, what if a few simple exercises could provide you with the relief you’re searching for?

We take a look at the best exercises that can help with bad knees, so you can stay active well into older age. We will uncover why our joints get stiffer as we get older and how certain exercises can be a good way to relieve the pain. We’ll explore which exercises are the best to try and what movements should be avoided.

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Why do joints get stiffer as we get older and why do you need to protect them?
We put our joints through a lot throughout our lifetime. They connect our bones, allowing us to bend and twist without rubbing together. However, as we age the cushioning can begin to thin and our bones can begin to knock and grind against each other, which can also lead to arthritis.

While you can’t bring back the cushioning you’ve lost in your knees, staying active and performing specific exercises will help strengthen and support the stability of these joints.

What exercises are the best to try?
This exercise, in particular, has been reviewed medically by William, Morrison, MD, a specialist in orthopaedics:

  • Lying Leg Raise

This exercise will help strengthen your quadriceps, the large thigh muscles that attach to your knees.

  1. Lie down on your back, either on the floor or on a bed with your legs straight.
  2. Relax your arms by your side and point your toes upwards
  3. Contract your stomach muscles and push your lower back into the floor
  4. Keeping your right leg straight, slowly lift your heel an inch off the ground.
  5. Hold and count to 5 before very slowly lowering your leg back to the ground.
  6. Repeat with the left leg.

Learn more about other exercises that can support your knees. 

What other activities can you do, depending on your age and the severity of your knee pain?
If you find that these knee exercises cause you too much discomfort, there are many other activities you can do instead.

  1. Walking is a great way to strengthen the muscles around your knees while building your bone density back up at the same time. You need not walk quickly but often, increasing your pace and distance gradually over the weeks and months.
  2. If you find walking causes you too much discomfort or even pain, then aqua walking is a great alternative for you to try. For this exercise simply walk along the shallow end of a swimming pool. The buoyancy of the water will take the weight off your joints, allowing you to strengthen your knees and improve your flexibility. Many swimming pools offer water exercise classes that are particularly focused on helping individuals to manage their arthritis. You can also find more water exercises here.

What movements should you avoid?
Bad posture is a big offender for putting your joints at risk. Standing unevenly, leaning to one side and slouching can put unnecessary pressure on your joints. When done for long periods of time, like at work or in the car on a daily basis, this can escalate and cause some serious damage. If you find yourself slouching a lot, try and straighten up regularly to give your joints a break.

Never lift heavy objects with your back, this can also cause joint damage. Instead, lift with your knees bent and push through your thighs.

Is exercise the best method for helping your bad knees? What other options are available? 

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Carrying extra weight will put more pressure on your joints. Studies have shown that weight loss of at least 10% can help to protect your knees.
  • Eat right: Certain foods like leafy greens and berries have anti-inflammatory properties that will help to stave off joint pain.
  • Drink lots of water: Dehydration can harm your joints. Your body will begin pulling fluid from your cartilage when you’re dehydrated, so drink plenty of water to keep your joints hydrated.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking increases inflammation, which in turn increases pain. Speak to your health advisor to help you quit, and soon you’ll notice your pain begins to lessen.

We’ve looked at some of the best exercises for people with bad knees, the movements you should avoid, and alternative options to improve your knee health. Learn more about natural remedies for arthritis relief.