Creaky joints are something we accept as an inevitable part of ageing. But a recent survey has now found that most people in the UK have joints that are ageing faster than the rest of their body.
The average person has joints 12 years older than their actual chronological age, according to the study of 13,000 people.
The health of your joints depends on a number of factors, such as your genes, weight, diet – even your profession.
To see just what effect these factors can have we asked five volunteers to undergo a joint age test conducted by Dr Leon Creaney, a consultant in sport and exercise medicine at the Bupa Barbican Centre, London.
Dr Creaney tested a range of movements in their hips, shoulder, neck, lower back and shoulders to measure flexibility, an indicator of joint age. Here are his surprising results…
THE SERIAL DIETER Julie Breaker, office administrator
REAL AGE: 33.
JOINT AGE: Neck 52; hips 40; shoulders 33; spine 25.
Julie, who is 5ft 11in and weighs 15st, has been overweight since her teens, and topped the scales at 25st (with a body mass index of 48) until she went on the Lighter Life diet two years ago. Now she does an exercise video three times a week and tries to follow a healthy eating plan.
EXPERT SAYS: ‘Julie’s hip result can probably be explained by the fact that she was obese. The hip is a weight-bearing joint and all that weight will have put a big strain on it.
‘Her young spine is partially down to luck – she may have good genes, but also the spine would not carry as much of the strain as the hips. Her older neck age may be because she spends most of her working day bent over a desk or on the phone.
‘Strengthening her abdominal muscles through exercise will help protect her hips from further wear and tear.’
JULIE SAYS: ‘I’m not too surprised by my results. I experience aches in my hips and knees, but my whole body doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did when I was very overweight. I am going to look into some exercises to make my neck more supple, and support my hips.’
THE EX-SQUASH PLAYER Dean Hodge, business consultant
REAL AGE: 48.
JOINT AGE: Hips 58; shoulders 48; neck 48; spine 42.
Dean, who is married with three boys aged 11, 14 and 16 and lives in Muswell Hill, North London, used to play squash daily and also played rugby as a teenager. Now his main exercise is playing ball with his sons in the park at the weekend. He weighs 14½st and is 5ft 9in tall (his BMI is 30).
EXPERT SAYS: ‘Dean’s hips are about a decade older than he is, probably because he used to play a lot of sport when he was a teenager.
‘Anything that involves a lot of twisting and turning – such as squash or football – will put a strain on the hips as it damages the cartilage, leaving them more prone to damage.
‘Squash, like running, is also a high-impact sport, which means the hips and knees take a lot of strain, which can lead to cartilage damage. Sports such as swimming and cycling are much kinder on your joints.
‘Like Julie, Dean should try and work on strengthening his abdominal muscles – with activities such as Pilates – to help strengthen the area around his hips and pelvis.’
DEAN SAYS: ‘I have not been aware of any problem with my hips – the only place I get the odd twinge is in my knees. Hearing that my poor hips are due to the fact I played a lot of squash when I was younger was a massive surprise. I thought it was doing me good.’
THE BIG EXERCISER Richard Payne, finance director
REAL AGE: 47.
JOINT AGE: Neck 62; Shoulders 47; hips 47; spine 35.
Richard, from Bromley, Kent, is a cycling enthusiast who bikes to work every day – a round trip of 27 miles – and cycles for fun at the weekends. He is 6ft 3in and weighs 13st 7lb (his BMI is 23.5).
Expert says: ‘Richard’s neck is the way it is, I suspect, because of the posture he adopts while he is cycling. He has to keep his neck bent up to look ahead.
‘He needs to watch his posture when he is on the bike so it doesn’t get any worse.’
RICHARD SAYS: ‘When I cycle my back is almost totally flat, so I do have to push my neck up. It’s not really stiff but sometimes I get an ache in my neck – often followed by a headache. I have had some back pain from time to time, but I do push-ups to help strengthen my abdominal muscles which really seem to help.
‘I will definitely be more conscious of the position of my neck in the future.’