4 Things Olympians Do Every Day to Take Care of Their Joints

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mixed media collage of Winter Olympic athlete Danielle Aravich on a blue background with images of a hot bath and healthy foods for joint health
U.S. Olympians share their top joint health tips that you can try at home or in the gym.
Image Credit: NBC Olympics/LIVESTRONG.com Creative

Athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games share their top tips so you can fuel your body and rock your workouts Like an Olympian.

Millions of Americans deal with some form of joint pain each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And that includes some of the world's best athletes.

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Yep, even top-tier Olympians and Paralympians experience joint pain and injuries from time to time. After all, landing ski jumps and swinging a hockey stick thousands of times over the course of a season isn't exactly easy on your knees or shoulders. But here's the thing: They know exactly how to care for their bodies to recover quickly and get back in the game.

We chatted with a few 2022 Winter Games athletes to learn their top tricks and tips to promote healthy, pain-free joints. And now, you can try them, too.

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1. Eating Joint-Friendly Foods

"Our bodies are literally built from what we eat, so I make sure I am giving my body the nutrition it needs to feel good," says U.S. Olympic skier and 2021 World Cup Winner Winter Vinecki. "With all of the activity that I do, I need all the help I can get from the antioxidants and phytonutrients in fruits and veggies to reduce inflammation and help my body recover, especially my joints!"

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Chronic, low-level inflammation can cause or exacerbate joint pain and arthritis, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Eating nutrient- and antioxidant-rich foods can help reduce levels in your body. And most of them are pretty simple to add to just about any meal.

The Best Foods for Joint Health

  • Berries:​ Strawberries, blackberries and blueberries are especially high in antioxidants and anthocyanins, which help fight inflammation, according to Penn Medicine. Bonus: You can get all of these frozen for just as many (and more convenient) nutrients!
  • Dark leafy greens:​ Kale, arugula and collard greens are high in vitamins E and C, which help minimize inflammation in your body and increase production of collagen. This is a type of protein that your body uses to make the connective tissue in your bones, tendons and cartilage, according to Harvard Health Publishing. In short, collagen helps keep your joints flexible and strong.
  • Cruciferous veggies:​ Broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage are excellent sources of vitamins E and C, too. Plus, they add a little crunch to a leafy salad or grain bowl.
  • Fatty fish:​ Oily fish, like salmon, is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats can slow and reduce inflammation, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other options include mackerel, tuna and anchovies.

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2. Doing Joint-Strengthening Exercises

"I have a loose patella, which I have been dealing with for seven years," says Danielle Aravich, a 2022 Paralympian in Nordic skiing. "I go to physical therapy regularly for it, so I make sure I always do my stretches that my PT assigns me... I try to spend each evening doing something for recovery."

Like Aravich, if you're recovering from a specific condition or injury, you should prioritize physical therapist-prescribed exercises to help minimize pain and keep joints as healthy as possible. But even if you're not in injury rehab, practicing a few joint-focused exercises can help keep your body ache-free over the long term.

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The Best Joint-Strengthening Exercises

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3. Taking a Vitamin D Supplement

"I take vitamin D supplements to protect my bones and joints," says sled hockey gold medalist Jack Wallace. "It's hard to get a lot of sunlight when training in gyms and ice rinks — especially in the winter — so I supplement vitamin D."

While foods such as spinach, milk and fortified cereals contain vitamin D, we get the bulk of this important nutrient through exposure to sunlight. And with our largely indoors lifestyles, 42 percent of Americans are deficient, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

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Your body uses vitamin D to build strong bones and joints. As the Mayo Clinic explains, vitamin D helps you absorb calcium, the main component in your bones. So if your levels are low, it can definitely be worth exploring the supplements aisle.

Before you try any supplement, chat with your doctor to see if vitamin D is a smart choice for you. Unless you have a deficiency, supplementing with vitamin D is not necessary.

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What to Look for in Vitamin D Supplements

If you are going to try vitamin D supplements, keep an eye out for these must-haves

  • Dosage:​ Aim to get at least 400 to 600 IUs (or 10 to 15 mcg) of vitamin D per day to maintain healthy bones, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Third-party verification:​ The FDA doesn't regulate supplements the same way it does medications, so always look for a third-party verification stamp to make sure you're actually getting what the label says. The USP verified mark is a good one to look for. This organization has a rigorous testing process for its approved supplements.

3 of the Best Vitamin D Supplements

4. Sitting in the Sauna

Quality time in the sauna is how U.S. figure skater and Sochi 2014 bronze medalist Jason Brown likes to warm up.

"I have gotten in the habit of starting my mornings with this ritual in order to get my body loosened up a bit before I continue on with my day," he says. "It definitely helps relax me, while also warming up my muscles so I start my day feeling less tense."

Lowering stress can actually help reduce symptoms of arthritis, such as joint pain, according to the Arthritis Foundation. That's because stress can trigger inflammation, which worsens joint damage over time. So curbing stress can be an effective way to manage chronic inflammation and, therefore, joint damage.

Tips for Hitting the Sauna

  • Sauna safely:​ Avoid any alcohol or medications that may prevent you from sweating before going into a sauna, recommends Harvard Health Publishing. Only sauna for about 15 to 20 minutes and drink 2 to 4 cups of water after your session to stay hydrated.
  • At your gym:​ If you're an "in and out" gym-goer, you may not even know your gym has a sauna available. Take a look around your locker room or ask your gym's front desk if there are any facilities available.
  • At your home:​ No sauna? No biggie! Brown recommends trying a long hot bath to get similar sauna benefits.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit​​ ​​TeamUSA.org​​​​. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning February 3, and Paralympics, starting March 4, on NBC.

More Olympic-Level Fitness Tips

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