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Men's Health

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Aging Is a Real Pain in the Neck. . .

And the Back. And the Knees. But with stretching and exercise to relieve the pain, it doesn’t have to be.

Why you need cardio training to help lighten the load

It’s easy to blame age for your aching joints. But the true cause may be that extra 30 pounds you’ve loaded onto them, also known as your “spare tire.” Cardiovascular training — along with a healthy diet — is the best way to take care of that problem. And of course it’s vital for preventing heart disease and stroke. Guidelines vary, but Siegrist suggests “challenging your body” (something more intense than a casual stroll) for 30 to 60 minutes each day.

If you are looking for relief of back pain, then you should choose cardio training that conditions your trunk muscles, Hilibrand says. That means exercises performed in a standing position, such as running or jogging. If you have disk problems that make high-impact exercise painful, you may want to consider lower-impact alternatives such as stair machines, elliptical trainers, or cross-country ski trainers.

Why strength training helps relieve aching joints

Why will strength training help ease joint pain? Because strengthening the muscles that cross your joints helps them act more effectively as stabilizers, Siegrist says.

Strengthening the trunk muscles is especially important for relief of back pain, Hilibrand says. “The spine supports the upper body weight on the pelvis,” he says. “The only thing that shares that load is the trunk muscles, so the stronger they are, the less weight that will be carried on the spine.”

Orthopedic specialists urge strengthening the “core” — the stomach, back, rear, and thighs. Many men ignore these muscle groups in favor of the chest, biceps, and shoulders, says Schafer. But having a strong core should be the foundation of your workout program, he says. Hilibrand suggests meeting with a trainer or physical therapist to set up a program that focuses on core strengthening.

How bad is it, doc?

Some men will run to a specialist at the slightest muscle twitch. Others would rather hobble through their days than go near a doctor. The best course of action is somewhere in between, say orthopedists.

The key is to listen to your body, says Schafer. Ordinary joint soreness can be treated by scaling back on an activity, icing the joint, and taking over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications (such as aspirin or ibuprofen) as needed. (The orthopedic association says that most mild sprains and strains can be treated through rest, ice, compression, and elevation — RICE.) If the pain persists and is accompanied by swelling, or if it interferes with your normal daily activities, you should seek a medical evaluation, Schafer says.

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