According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are approximately 54 million people living with some form of arthritis in the United States and 60% of those people are between the ages of 18 and 64. Arthritis costs over 140 billion dollars in medical expenses each year and results in loss of wages and contributes to other diseases later in life. Not to mention how it can affect your quality of life in general.
Although difficult and sometimes painful, movement is the best way to keep arthritic joints healthy and mobile. Studies show that people with arthritis are afraid of exercising for fear of causing more damage. They are also experiencing fatigue from pain, anxiety, and some of the medications to treat their symptoms and feel they don’t have the energy to add movement to their daily routine. And just like the rest of us, arthritis sufferers feel they don’t have enough time and that they won’t be able to perform exercise well enough.
Doctors are starting to suggest that arthritis patients perform some type of exercise, but many say that their physicians do not give clear instructions on what types of exercising they should be doing. Some of the benefits of staying active with arthritis are reduction in pain, reduction in swelling, increase ease in daily activities, distraction from the pain, and an increase of energy. But if your doctor doesn’t know what to tell you to do, then how will you know? Answer…find an experienced Physical Therapist or Coach! If you take arthritis into your own hands, then there is a possibility that you can move it out of your knees (or whatever ails you)!!
Here are some of my suggestions for moving with arthritis:
Make joint mobility and light stretching the majority of your routine to begin. Trust me, you will feel it and be tired. People underestimate the value of just moving their joints in the directions they were designed to move. I suggest this type of work every day if you can, or at least every other day. It is so important to stay mobile. Eventually, you will be pleasantly surprised at what your body can do!
Move when you are tired. Just do it…it will actually wake you up and it doesn’t have to be vigorous. Walk around the house, the yard, down the driveway and back, whatever you can do. Invest in a treadmill, elliptical, or a gym membership that offers those amenities. Start with 5-10 minutes of walking or rhythmic movement and build up to at least 30 minutes per session. You will feel more energized when you are finished. Your body is designed to release feel-good chemicals when you move so take advantage of it. Make this a priority at least 3 days a week, more if you are able.
Practice breathing. Really focus on your breath, preferably while seated. How long can you inhale before your chest feels like its fully expanded? Can you empty your lungs? How do you feel after you take a few deep inhales and exhales while paying attention? Are you light-headed? If so, your breathing needs practice.
Start by sitting in a chair, upright with your back tall and slightly puff up your chest, but don’t strain. Focus on inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 4 seconds. Maybe you only make it to 2 seconds the first time, that’s okay! Keep trying. Make this a part of your morning routine for a few minutes, and also when you are experiencing the pain associated with your arthritis. Breathing through uncomfortable experiences is the best way to minimize the amount of stress caused by those experiences.
There are other things that you can do to manage arthritis symptoms that no one talks about much…WHAT ARE YOU EATING?
Yes, we have to go there.
Whether we want to admit it or not, our eating habits directly impact the processes that take place in our bodies. The food that you eat moves around in your body, sending its contents all throughout it. The contents of that food become a part of you. What are you ingesting? Something from a package? A plant? A seed? Part of an animal?
Food and air are our immediate contact with the outside world. If the air is polluted with smoke, you have a reaction to it, right? Your reflexes tell you to cover your mouth, keep the smoke from entering the lungs. If the smoke gets in, the lungs spasm and you cough; the body’s way of saying: “Get this pollution out!” The same thing happens if you eat spoiled or artificial food. Once food enters the body, your stomach and intestines start to “interact” with it, absorbing it and using it for fuel.
Good food feeds our body and bad food is expelled, sometimes forcefully when we are sick. Being sick from food not only affects our stomach, it also affects all parts of our body as well. Just because you aren’t vomiting doesn’t mean that your food isn’t contributing to illness. Food can irritate the body by inflaming the intestines, other organs, the skin, muscles and JOINTS. Example: every time I eat overly processed grains such as white bread or cake, my skin reacts by getting inflamed (rash and acne). Every time I eat dairy products the bacteria in my intestines protest and I feel the weight of extra gas. What you eat will affect your whole body.
Dr. Michael Greger, the author of How Not to Die, suggests increasing the consumption of açaí berries, cherries and turmeric can help a great deal in reducing joint inflammation. Dr. Greger has studied the effects of food on the body for many years and bases his recommendation on scientific studies. Also, reducing the amount of pork consumed will decrease the risk of contracting the Yersinia bacteria, which infects about 100,000 people per year in the United States. One of the lasting effects of contracting this bacteria is the likelihood that you will develop arthritis, and Grave’s disease.
The more food grown from the ground and minimally processed that you can eat, the better your body will function. It’s how we were made. Most of our foods are packaged and overly processed with chemicals that are man-made. They are easy to find, convenient to eat during our over-packed schedules, and stimulate the pleasure centers in our brain. However, our bodies react to the chemicals in those packages with inflammation, gas, discomfort, and sometimes rejection. Don’t rule out the possibility of food playing a significant role in your arthritis symptoms until you try to eliminate processed foods and convenience foods.
Try eating more natural foods and independent farm-raised meats and eggs.(Let your doctor know first, especially if you are being prescribed medications.) Give it at least two weeks. If you feel the same afterward and were disciplined in your effort, please let a nutrition expert or your physician know. It’s ALWAYS best to consult a registered dietician for advice on eating for health.
Never forget, food is fuel. We have started to treat it like entertainment and a social habit when really it should be more like breathing. It’s a biological process that needs to be fulfilled with as pure a source as possible so we can keep functioning well and making a difference.
Lastly, the old saying “use it or lose it” applies to our bodies as well as the skills we learn. We were made to move. Arthritis may change the way you move, but it shouldn’t stop the movement altogether.
Health and vitality are almost always a personal choice. What are you choosing for yourself?
Dr. Michael Greger’s work can be found here: