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Knee Exercises

Body+Soul, 2007

Whether it starts as a cracking sound when you first get out of bed or as a post-workout twinge of pain, the knees have a way of telling the truth about our age -- especially for women. According to the National Center of Health Statistics, women account for two-thirds of the 400,000 knee replacements performed each year. Staying pain-free, says Jason Theodosakis, M.D., author of The Arthritis Cure, depends on having a solid prevention plan. "If people in their forties start thinking about preserving their joints, they'll be much more likely to maintain healthy knee function for another 60 years." We designed these exercises -- with physical therapist Jim Johnson, author of "Treat Your Own Knees," yoga teacher Sandy Blaine, and movement educator Eric Franklin -- to help you strengthen and stretch the muscles surrounding your knees for better alignment and greater stability.

1. Balance Challenge

What It Does

Helps your body find true alignment, then strengthens the muscles responsible for maintaining it. For a greater challenge, repeat this exercise with your eyes closed. "When you close your eyes, your muscles have to work much harder to bring your joints into alignment," says Blaine, author of "Yoga for Healthy Knees."

How To Do It

Stand with your feet parallel, either together or 4 to 6 inches apart. Bring your hands to your hips and bend and lift your right knee, bringing your foot a few inches off the ground. Hold for 10 breaths. Repeat sequence on the other side.

2. Lateral Stretch

What It Does

Stretches the outer hip, glutes, and the muscles that run along the outside of the leg.

How To Do It

Lie on your left side with your right leg crossed over the left knee and your right foot flat on the floor. Using your left arm to support you, engage the upper body, pressing against the mat until you feel a gentle stretch in the hip. For a deeper stretch, use a blanket under your shin. Switch sides.

3. Isometric Strengthener

What It Does

Builds stronger quads, which support and stabilize the knee; you'll notice the difference after doing this exercise 3 days a week for 6 to 8 weeks.

How To Do It

Sitting on the floor, place a cushion under one knee and lean back on your hands. Lift the heel off the floor, then press down firmly on the cushion and hold for 3 to 5 seconds. Repeat 30 times, then switch legs.