3 Steps to Healthy Knees

The key to keeping your knees in top shape is to incorporate the right stretches and strength moves into your walking workout. Follow our easy steps.

Throbbing knees send about 20 million Americans to the doctor every year. The majority of sufferers are women, high heels the possible culprit. The good news? Regular walks—at least 30 minutes, five days a week—along with some basic strength moves, can ease (and prevent!) aching, inflamed knees. Try these three exercises, designed by personal trainer and Family Circle Health Advisory Board member Ellen Barrett, and be pain-free.

Tip: Take some time at the beginning and end of your walks for a few good stretches.

Before Your Walk

  • Seated Toe-Heel: Sit upright in a chair and stretch your legs (hip-width apart) straight out in front of you, forming a 90-degree angle at the hips. Bring the toes together (pigeon-toed position) and then apart. Then tap the heels (first position in ballet). Alternate toe and heel touches at an up-tempo pace for a total of 50 (25 toes, 25 heels).

During Your Walk

  • Roll the foot from heel to toe. Knee pain is often the result of too much weight on the ball of the foot. Allow the whole foot to take the brunt of each stride.
  • Focus on keeping your abs tight. This will make each step lighter and less taxing on the knees. You know you have an engaged core when there is no thudding noise as you step.
  • Don't be a weekend warrior. Doing any sort of exercise intensely only once in a while can lead to injury and pain. When it comes to walking, move moderately and schedule jaunts on a regular basis.
  • Hit the trails. Uneven terrain will condition muscle fibers in the knees that stay dormant on treadmills and paved roads. Switching things up regularly makes knees stronger and more agile.

After Your Walk

  • One-Leg Balance: Stand upright and lift one foot off the ground, bending your knee, with thigh parallel to the ground. Try not to hold on to anything. If you're inside, do this move barefoot, as sneakers make it too easy. Balance on each leg for 60 seconds.
  • Quad Stretch: Grab a chair back or fence with your left hand. Reach behind you with your right hand and grab your right shin, ankle or toes. Pull your foot toward your buttocks until you feel extension along the front of your thigh. Keep your left leg straight but not locked. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.

Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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