October 12th is World Arthritis Day. Arthritis is the “nation’s #1 cause of disability.” It “affects nearly 60 million adults and 300,000 children.” (Arthritis Foundation, 2022). The CDC reports that “more than half of US adults with arthritis are of working age (18 – 64 years)” (2021).
Before I get further into the content, I wanted to first share a little about my grandma Peggy, who in my eyes was an absolute rockstar. She was quite witty, somewhat sassy, intelligent, talented, and was always included in my weekend plans until she passed on. Life at grandma’s was always an adventure….listening to old records, learning how to play card games, and watching Johnny Carson. We enjoyed going downtown, visiting the pet store, and frequenting a quaint little restaurant, one of those “holes in the wall.” All of this to say, my grandma Peggy was living with Rheumatoid arthritis and other health conditions related to joint health, and she never missed a beat. My grandma’s activities were limited; however, I remember her lying in bed each night and doing a series of exercises. She never missed a day – ever. As a health educator today, I am so moved thinking of her commitment to physical activity and positive health behaviors despite her challenges. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to “stay as active as your health allows” and grandma Peggy did just that (CDC, 2018).
There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Depending upon the type, inflammation occurs in the tissues, joints, and “organs, such as your eyes, heart, or skin” (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 2017). Common symptoms include stiffness and joint pain. Although age, gender and heredity play a part in your risk of arthritis, there are three steps you can take that are within your control to reduce your risk of symptoms and inflammation and to support arthritis management (CDC, 2021; Gioia, C. et al., 2020).
Consistent exercise helps to maintain and/or improve flexibility, boost energy, and provide pain relief.
- If you have arthritis and experience pain when you exercise, “it may take 6-8 weeks for your joints to get used to your new activity level but sticking with your activity program will result in long-term pain relief” (CDC, 2019).
- Exercise S.M.A.R.T.: “Start low, go slow. Modify activity when arthritis symptoms increase, try to stay active. Activities should be joint friendly. Recognize safe places and ways to be active. Talk to a health professional or certified exercise specialist” (CDC, 2018).
- John Hopkins Arthritis Center also has a series of videos answering a variety of questions about living with arthritis and exercise.
- BEFORE starting an exercise program, always consult your physician to ensure the activity is safe for you.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Much of the research on diet and inflammation focuses on Rheumatoid arthritis (RA); one dietary pattern identified to reduce some of the common symptoms such as stiffness and pain is the Mediterranean diet (Schoneberger, K., et. al, 2021; Andwele, M., 2021). Think of the Mediterranean diet as more of a way of eating that includes fruits and vegetables, fish at least twice a week, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Olive oil is used as a healthy fat and herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt. This style of eating may include poultry, dairy and eggs in moderation. Red meat or sugar sweetened beverages and treats are minimal if found at all in this eating pattern (Mayo Clinic, 2022; Oldways, 2022; American Heart Association, 2020). The Mediterranean diet is considered a healthy dietary pattern by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Extra pounds put extra pressure and stress on your weight bearing joints. If obese or overweight, a small amount of weight loss can improve your pain level from arthritis. Controllable factors that contribute to a healthy weight combines eating a healthy diet, getting optimal sleep and physical activity, and managing stress.
- Read more about self-care tips for stress reduction here.
- Resources for taking steps towards a healthy weight:
Living with arthritis or several forms of arthritis does not mean you cannot live a healthy and quality life. While there is not a cure, implementing lifestyle changes like exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and consuming a recommended, healthy dietary pattern, you can help to manage pain and inflammation, as well as, “preserve joint function” (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2022).
My grandma Peggy was not able to walk long distances, but she always agreed to race me down the marina near her home. I will never forget her mean, electric wheelchair with the license plate, “Peg’s Wheels” on the back. I don’t recall who won the actual races; however, she was the real champion. Despite her health challenges, she kept moving. I will always look back and admire her strength, tenacity, and commitment to do as much as her health allowed.
For more information on Arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation®.
Adapted and updated from an original post, Wellness with Wendy e-news (October 7, 2020). Author: Wendy W. Lynch
Image Credit: Canva.com/Education