5 lifestyle changes that could help improve your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Reduce the pain that comes with RA
Many of us take actions like walking up steps or turning a doorknob for granted. But if you’re living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), these everyday movements can be very painful. An estimated 1.3 million Americans have been diagnosed with RA. Women are more than twice as likely as men to have the disorder, and it can affect anyone from childhood through adulthood.
RA is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s immune system attacks their own healthy tissue. While any organ can be affected, the hallmark symptoms include swollen, tender joints and fatigue. Often, RA will affect smaller joints—like the ones in your hands and feet, but any joint outside of the back can become involved. The arthritis is painful and destructive. Left unchecked, it can cause permanent joint damage.
“It’s important for patients with this systemic disease to have close follow-up, because other organs such as eyes, skin and lungs can become involved,” said Geisinger rheumatologist David Pugliese, DO. “Even more complicating, the treatments used for RA can often effects the immune system and other organs, which also requires close monitoring.”
While RA can be painful and frustrating, medications and simple—even fun—lifestyle changes can make your symptoms more manageable.
- Embrace movement and exercise
RA symptoms are generally at their worst when you’re not moving, such as first thing in the morning or after prolonged sitting.
“From the moment you wake up, look for opportunities to move. Whether it’s getting the mail or walking around your block, being active will help,” said Dr. Pugliese. “Although exercise can be challenging, any activity, even low-impact yoga, has been shown to help reduce stiffness and strengthen the muscles that support your joints.”
Just be sure to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine. Physical and occupational therapy referrals may prove helpful in creating safe, effective exercise programs that are tailored to your needs.
- Go for a dip
As a complement to your movement and exercise, try water aerobics and swimming to decrease your RA symptoms. These strengthen your muscles, relieving stiffness, reducing stress and allowing you to have some fun. The extra buoyancy in the water will also take added stress off your joints. As a bonus, swimming benefits your heart.
- Watch your weight
People with a healthy weight will typically have less inflammation and fewer pounds. That’s less stress on the joints. The Arthritis Foundation notes that for every pound you lose, you reduce the stress on your weight-bearing joints by 4 pounds.
- Make sleep a priority
Quality sleep helps the body heal from the day’s activities.
“This, in turn, can help lessen your symptoms and reduce the fatigue you may experience,” Dr. Pugliese said. “There is also evidence that decreased sleep can independently correlate with increased pain levels. Aim for about 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night.”
- Take time to rest and relax
Aside from the physical discomfort that comes with RA, it can also be stressful and disheartening. How can you feel better? Try some deep breathing exercises or meditation. Allow time to rest, recharge and destress.
“Remember, it’s OK to take time to care for yourself,” said Dr. Pugliese.
Connecting with others can lift your spirits when you’re living with a chronic condition such as RA. identify friends and family members who can act as your support system. You can also seek out a support group to talk with others who have similar conditions and who can lend not only support but possibly suggestions based on their experiences.
“Rheumatoid arthritis can be a difficult disease with many complicated manifestations. Partnering with your doctors, creating a strong support network and embracing the healthy lifestyle can help lead to a happy, productive life with controlled arthritis,” said Dr. Pugliese.
David Pugliese, DO, is an internist and primary care doctor who specializes in rheumatology. To schedule an appointment, call 800-275-6401.