We asked rheumatologists what they most wish their patients would do to improve their arthritis health. Here’s what they said.
- Be more open with your doctor.
In pain? More tired than usual? Tell your doctor. “Many individuals with arthritis feel that they’re ‘complaining’ or taking up too much of their doctor’s time. But more information helps a physician tailor treatment, leading to better health outcomes,” says M. Elaine Husni, MD, director of the Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Treatment Center at the Cleveland Clinic.
- Eat more fresh produce.
There’s no easier way to improve your diet, says Dr. Husni. “Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in micronutrients and are very filling, even though they’re low in calories” – helping you consume less processed fare, reduce inflammation and achieve a healthy body weight, all of which is gentler on your joints and better for overall health. Aim for at least two servings of fruit and/or vegetables with every meal, and one serving per snack.
- Get closer to your ideal body weight.
Instead of vowing to drop a drastic amount of weight, set a manageable goal – say, 5 percent of your body weight, or 5 pounds – and once you achieve that goal, aim to do it again, recommends Edward C. Keystone, MD, director of the Rebecca MacDonald Centre for Arthritis and Autoimmune Disease at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada and a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. “Small goals are more easily reached and give you a better sense of accomplishment compared to missing your target on a big goal,” he explains.
- Find a workout you love.
Rather than vowing to exercise a certain number of times or minutes a week, focus on finding a workout you truly enjoy – because that will drastically increase your odds of staying physically active, which will in turn stave off the effects of arthritis. “Consider a dance class, chair yoga, exercise videos or water walking,” says Dr. Husni. “Be willing to try different things until you find something that sticks.”
- Get the right diagnosis.
If you were diagnosed more than a decade ago or were diagnosed based solely on your symptoms, Dr. Husni recommends seeing a rheumatologist for a thorough rheumatologic exam. “We know more about arthritis and autoimmune disease than ever before, so it’s never been a better time for an accurate screening. It may be that you have psoriatic arthritis rather than RA (rheumatoid arthritis), or a comorbidity like osteoarthritis or lupus,” she says. “A proper diagnosis is the most important step toward effective treatment and relief.”
- Find a stress reducer that works for you.
Everyone knows stress is bad for you – but too few people have effective tools for reducing it, says Dr. Husni. “Start by asking yourself, what’s causing my stress? Disease? Work? Finances? Then make a list of what you can do to improve the situation and take it one step at a time,” she advises. As with exercise, be willing to experiment in order to find a stress-squasher that works – think deep breathing, exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy.
- Reach out to others.
Dr. Husni recommends reaching out to others for support. “In addition to friends and family, I encourage my patients to connect with others who have their disease through organizations like the Arthritis Foundation or the National Psoriasis Foundation.” Knowing others are in the same boat can be comforting, says Dr. Husni, and you may just uncover new ideas for coping, too.
- Learn more about healthy eating for arthritis.
- Find your exercise solution with these arthritis friendly recommended activities.