If you’re one of the more than 52 million adults in the U.S. living with arthritis, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help manage your symptoms better and maintain your mobility. Many of these changes not only help your joints, they can also have a positive effect on your heart, brain, and overall wellbeing.
A growing factor in the increasing number of people with arthritis in the knees or hips is that more Americans are overweight or obese, which puts increased strain on these joints, causing inflammation and damage at an earlier age than the typical onset of arthritis, usually age 65 or older. That makes reaching and maintaining a healthy weight an important goal. The most successful approach to weight management combines both changes in what you eat and an increase in the amount of activity you do.
An exercise plan for people with arthritis
If you’re already living with arthritis, it’s important to talk with your doctor about what types of exercise are safe and appropriate for your specific situation. If your arthritis is advanced or your mobility limited, your doctor may recommend that you start exercising under the guidance of a physical therapist.
In general, there are four types of exercise you should incorporate into your routine:
- Range of motion and stretching exercises help increase your flexibility and thin the synovial fluid in your joints, reducing stiffness.
- Strengthening exercises, like weight training, help make the muscles around your joints stronger so they support your joints better and can help lower your risk of bone loss. One study found that people with arthritis who did strength training reported a 43% decrease in pain compared with only a 12% decrease for those who did not incorporate strength training in their regimen.
- Aerobic exercise not only helps improve your muscles’ ability to function, it also helps you burn more calories and improves the health of your heart and lungs. Many doctors recommend water aerobics and swimming because these exercises put less stress on your joints, but some early studies suggest that if your arthritis is not advanced or if you’re exercising to lower your risk of arthritis, some types of higher impact activity can also be beneficial, increasing the strength of the bones in your legs and feet. Be sure to ask your doctor if higher impact activity is safe for you before you start these types of exercise.
- Body awareness exercises like some forms of yoga and tai chi help improve posture, balance, and joint alignment.
Effectively managing stress can also help you better manage pain caused by arthritis.
How can diet affect the health of your joints?
Some studies suggest that eating a Mediterranean diet that lowers the levels of inflammation in the body can help reduce joint pain. The staples of this diet include:
- Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, tuna, sardines, and other cold water fish
- Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, and pistachios
- Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, including blueberries, cherries, spinach, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots, apples, and onions
- Olive oil, which contains a compound called oleocanthal that some studies found can reduce inflammation
- Whole grains and beans
Foods that contain higher levels of vitamin C may also be beneficial because they help build collagen and connective tissue. It’s also wise to limit or avoid foods that can trigger inflammation, such as the partially hydrogenated oils in processed foods, margarines, and vegetable shortening and sugar.
To connect with the specialists who can help you build a tailored plan for living healthier with arthritis, consider working with a health advisor. Through your advisor, you can arrange expedited appointments with top orthopedists and rheumatologists, as well as with rehabilitation specialists, nutritionists, and trainers, and learn about all the evidence-based treatment options available to help you reduce pain and protect your joints.