Low-fat yogurt (415 mg per 8 ounces)
Calcium-fortified tofu (204 mg per ½ cup)
Calcium-fortified orange juice (200-260 mg per 6 ounces)
Salmon (181 mg per 3 ounces)
Cottage cheese (138 mg per ½ cup)
To prevent muscle pain, perk up your meals with inflammation-reducing herbs and spices. Cook suggests experimenting with bright orange turmeric in rice and curry dishes and adding fresh, chopped ginger to soups, stir-fries, sautéed vegetables, and tea. A report released by the University of South Carolina last year concluded that curcumin, a compound found in the curry spice turmeric, tames inflammation and eases exercise-induced muscle damage. And in a 2005 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers found that eating fresh ginger alleviated muscle pain and inflammation more effectively than taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
Exercise, of course
Your muscles thrive on regular exercise, says Rebecca Anne Demorest, MD, a physician at the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Exercising daily can go a long way in preventing muscle problems, but maintaining truly healthy muscles calls for keeping active throughout the day, not just for 30 minutes in the afternoon, says Demorest. “A lot of people spend their entire day sitting — in their cars, at their desks, on the couch when they get home,” says Barbara Templeton, a yoga instructor in Redding, Connecticut, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stretching (Alpha, 2007).
Staying sedentary can even impact your muscles on a biochemical level, according to recent research from the University of Missouri. Fat-burning enzymes in the muscles may become dormant within hours of sitting, scientists found. Just getting up and moving around throughout the day — walking to the watercooler, strolling at lunch, or even working while standing up — can re-engage those enzymes and keep your metabolism active.
Stretch it out
Stretching soothes muscle tension and promotes circulation, which are increasingly important as you age, says Demorest. “When we get older, our muscles tend to become less flexible, which can lead to muscle pain and injury,” she says. Set aside at least ten minutes to bend and flex each morning, recommends Templeton, and make your spine top priority. “All of your core muscles are connected to your spine in some way,” says Templeton. Be sure to move in all four directions: gently bend forward, stretch back, and twist to one side, then the next.
Practicing yoga delivers muscle benefits beyond the basic stretch. By applying pressure to different parts of your body, says Templeton, yoga can tone and massage your internal organs, including the most precious muscle of all: the heart. According to a study conducted at the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research in Pondicherry, India, yoga even helps strengthen lung muscles and enhance lung function.
Chronic tension takes its toll on your muscles, says Cook, leaving you more prone to aches and injury and contributing to issues such as temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. What's more, chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol may actually damage muscle tissue, says Cook. Don't overlook the power of regular exercise and stretching to melt stress, which can prevent further damage, she says. “Even 30 seconds of deep breathing — while you're commuting or sitting at your desk at work — can lower your body's levels of cortisol.”
Templeton recommends practicing self-massage once a week, kneading all your major muscle groups with sesame or jojoba oil. Rub your arms and legs with long, heavy strokes, but use less pressure and circular motions when massaging your knees, shoulders, and hips. Or try progressive muscle relaxation, says Cook: As you lie in bed, alternately tense and relax each muscle group one at a time, starting with your toes and working up to your face and scalp.