In a perfect world, pain wouldn’t exist, our weight would be optimal and we’d enjoy daily exercise and have energy to spare. But as arthritis pain and stiffness invade joints, the desire to exercise and the energy for much of anything can wane.
The world is not perfect, but there are ways to manage weight, minimize pain and improve energy levels. By changing habits, anyone can make small changes that will have a big impact over time.
Not sure where to start? We asked experts to help compile this top 10 list of habits to adopt.
Eat Breakfast at Home
“If you eat out, you’re more likely to start the day with high-fat, empty calories,” explains Rachel Brandeis, a registered dietitian in Atlanta. Brandeis recommends a meal that combines protein, high-fiber carbohydrates and a little bit of fat. Oatmeal with fruit and skim milk, or a poached egg with whole-grain toast.
“Stress exacerbates the symptoms of arthritis,” says psychologist Robert H. Phillips, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Coping in Hicksville, NY. “To minimize stress, write down the stresses in your life. Then ask yourself which ones you can change and jot down some strategies for change.” For example, if work is stressful, consider some actions you can take. Talk with your supervisor about shifting responsibilities so you’re doing more work you enjoy, for example. For the things you can’t change, change your thinking: remind yourself of the value of your accomplishments and the rewards of getting a paycheck.
Spare joints by performing household chores more efficiently. For example, fill a basket at the bottom of the stairs throughout the day to avoid multiple up-and-down trips. Professional organizer Jeanne Smith of Palo Alto, CA, suggests buying a basket with a handle you can slip over your arm. “This way, your hands are free to hold the banister.”
Instead of scattering doctor’s records, test results and treatment updates throughout the house, create one tidy home for them all, suggests Smith. Buy a small crate with six to eight hanging files and labels. That way you can easily drop things in and pull items out. Keep a notebook charting doctor visits, levels of pain, medications – and keep that notebook in the crate as well.
Although it sounds pessimistic to think about pain before it starts, anticipating pain may be the best way to relieve it. Once pain starts, it can be hard to stop. Treating it before it happens is often a better option. “Many people have pain first thing in the morning or are sore after exercise,” says Deborah S. Litman, MD, a rheumatologist in Chevy Chase, Md. “So take a pain reliever before bed at night or before you exercise.”
Kick off your shoes when you come home. “Most shoes increase forces on the knees more than going barefoot will,” says D. Casey Kerrigan, MD, owner of OESH shoe company and former chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Virginia. One caveat: Barefoot means barefoot. Avoid going in stocking feet, which may cause you to slip on slick floors.
Change Your Label
“When people see the world through their arthritis, they tend to refer to themselves as arthritic,” says Phillips. “Instead, practice calling yourself a person who happens to have arthritis. Don’t let the condition define who you are.”
Be Creative With Exercise
Don’t forgo exercise because it’s cold outside, your bike has a flat or the gym is closed. Take a fresh look at what constitutes exercise. Play fetch with the dog, pop in a fitness DVD, organize the kitchen cabinets or try a fitness video game. These can be just as good for you as a walk around the block.
Snack Every Three Hours
If you haven’t eaten for three hours or more, your blood sugar drops. You need to snack – which is particularly important if arthritis is already sapping your energy. Steer clear of the empty calories of candy bars or salty snacks. “Think high-fiber carbohydrates and lean protein — like whole-grain crackers and peanut butter, or yogurt with walnuts,” says Brandeis.
Whole foods are the best ways to get vitamins and minerals. But for a bit of insurance, add a daily multivitamin and supplements to your diet, with your doctor’s approval, suggests Khaled J. Saleh, MD, chair of the division of orthopaedic surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.
- 12 Best Foods for Arthritis
- The Benefits of Weight Loss
- Pick a Safer Supplement for Arthritis
- 5 Bad Habits to Drop for Better Arthritis Management
- Arthritis Today Magazine