Receiving a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis can be scary. This is a disease for which no cure currently exists, and the idea of having to live with joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue for the rest of your life may initially overwhelm you. However, while you may not be able to rid yourself of symptoms entirely, making simple lifestyle changes can help you to minimize your symptoms. Here are six such lifestyle changes to implement, starting today.
1. Improve Your Sleep Habits
When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your sleep and RA symptoms co-exist in a kind of loop. Joint pain makes it harder to sleep, and when you don’t get enough good-quality sleep, your joint pain worsens. To feel better, you must break this cycle and focus on getting better sleep.
If you must, take a higher dose of pain relievers — within your doctor’s recommendations, of course — on nights you have trouble sleeping. Use lightweight bedding to reduce pressure on your joints at night, and stick to a schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Your body will adapt to the schedule, and you’ll soon fall asleep with ease.
2. Eat More Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fatty acids that help fight inflammation in the body. Since much of the pain and fatigue of RA is related to inflammation, eating more omega 3s may help ease your symptoms. In one study, patients who took omega-3 fatty acids supplements were twice as likely to enter remission as those who did not take such supplements.
Most experts recommend trying to get your omega 3s from foods before turning to supplements. Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring are a good source. Flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts are also high in omega 3s. If you do not like these foods or have difficulty including them in your diet, ask your doctor to recommend an omega-3 supplement that will meet your needs.
3. Spend Some Time in the Sun
Don’t bask in the sun for hours, as doing so can increase your risk of skin cancer, but do make an effort to spend 10 to 15 minutes in the sun every day. When your skin is exposed to sunshine, your body makes vitamin D. This vitamin helps regulate your immune system and may reduce the severity of your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
You can also boost your vitamin D levels by eating more vitamin D-rich foods, like fortified cereal and milk, beef liver, and egg yolks.
4. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
For many patients, stress makes rheumatoid arthritis symptoms worse. A great way to reduce your stress levels is to practice mindfulness meditation. This is a form of meditation in which you focus on becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings and on living in the present moment. Over time, it may change the way you react to stressful experiences, which in turn helps ease your RA pain.
Many wellness centers and medical centers offer mindfulness meditation classes. You can also find many meditation videos online. Make sure you stick with the program for a few weeks before judging whether or not it is working for you; this form of meditation can take some time to learn.
5. Make Stretching a Part of Your Day
Stretching keeps your muscles loose, and loose and limber muscles put less strain on your joints. Just 10 minutes of stretching 3 times per day will make a huge difference in your symptoms. Experiment with different stretches to find what works for you. Start with the following suggestions.
Sit up straight on the edge of your bed, and extend one leg straight in front of you, feeling the stretch through all of your leg muscles. Slide your hands down your outstretched leg to deepen the stretch, and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat the exercise with the opposite leg.
Basic arm circles, like you may have done in gym class as a child, are great for loosening up your arms. Start with small, slow, forward circles, and increase the size and speed of your circles gradually. Then change directions and make backward circles instead.
Hold your hands with your palms facing upward. Touch your fingers to your palm one at a time. Pause to relax between each finger touch, if needed.
In addition to stretching, try some low-impact aerobic exercise to keep your body limber. Swimming and water aerobics are tried-and-true favorites among rheumatoid arthritis patients.
6. Use Assistive Devices
From canes to reachers, many assistive devices can make daily life easier for RA patients. Consider investing in orthotics for your shoes. The padding they add can ease joint pain throughout your whole body. In the kitchen, buy pans with handles on both sides so you can lift them with greater ease. In the bathroom, add a seat to your shower and grab bars to the toilet area.
Large-button appliances, motion-sensor lights, and Velcro-close shoes are simple products that can make a huge difference when you’re having a flare-up.
You don’t deserve to suffer. Make a few lifestyle changes to reduce your rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and re-embrace life. For professional assistance managing your pain and stiffness, contact Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates.