I’ve fallen in love with two leopard cubs – curious, compact balls of exquisitely patterned fur – which I saw at a game reserve recently. They were the epitome of cuteness and I could have watched their antics for hours. But it was observing their mom move that got me thinking about joints and range of motion.
The first time we saw her, she was ambling down the road alone. Her litheness, ease and grace accentuated her extraordinary feline beauty. When she lay down, it was with a suppleness and flexibility you’d expect from a house cat a fraction of her size.
The next time I saw her, she had two cubs in tow, patiently escorting them to her kill. When she led them off the road to avoid a troop of baboons up ahead, she picked her way through the long bushveld grass with silent fluidity.
Later, when we found them with the large male impala she’d killed, now lying at the foot of a tree, I tried to imagine the awesome agility that came into play as she hunted and killed her quarry. The next morning, we found she’d stored the carcass in the tree – a feat demanding amazing strength, stability, agility, flexibility and mobility.
I’ve no doubt that the movement in each snapshot I’ve described drew on all these in varying degrees. And, while every part of the anatomy works in synergy, it’s the joints that form the fulcrum of movement.
Try locking or stiffening just one joint and you’ll see how it impacts on how you move. I find that even having a plaster covering and restricting the movement of one finger joint means I tend not to use that finger.
To avoid swollen, inflamed and eventually frozen joints, now’s the time to get them moving. Exercise such as walking, cycling and swimming encourages the production of protective synovial fluid that coats joints – like hinges, they need to stay well oiled.
The food you eat can also help from the inside. Here are some examples:
• Oily fish such as salmon and pilchards – contain anti-inflammatory omega-3, as well as vitamin D, which helps prevent swelling and pain. Walnuts and almonds are also good sources of omega-3.
• Citrus, sweet peppers, broccoli and other foods rich in vitamin C – it protects collagen, a major component of cartilage in joints.
• Onions and leeks – contain quercetin, an antioxidant that may inhibit inflammation.
Though I doubt these are on the leopard’s menu, they are good for us humans so that we, too, can stride down the street, stretch, bend, run, play, carry and stand firm – with at least a hint of feline grace.