If you have a loved one with arthritis, you know how painful and debilitating the disease can be. While a good doctor or health team can do a lot to help, everyday habits are a huge factor, too. It’s worth taking a look at what your loved one does (or doesn’t do) in their everyday life, because there are lifestyle changes for arthritis that can have a major influence on their joints and on the degree of pain they experience.
There are two categories of lifestyle changes for arthritis:
- Nutrition and exercise
- Stress management
Nutrition and weight make a difference.
According to the CDC, 1 in every 5 Americans has been diagnosed with arthritis. When it comes to Americans who are obese, though, that number goes up to 1 in every 3.
It’s not hard to figure out why. If osteoarthritis is a result of cartilage wear and tear – i.e. stress on the joints – it makes sense that the more stress the joints actually have, the sooner they’ll break down. How much more stress? Well, when you walk across level ground, the stress on your knees is 1.5 times your body weight. So if your loved one weighs 200 pounds, that’s 300 pounds of stress on their knees. Ouch.
But get this: Studies have shown that when it comes to weight loss, the 1.5 rule turns to a 4-fold rule. In other words, for every pound of weight your loved one loses, that’s 4 pounds less pressure on the knees. Lose 10 pounds? You get -40 pounds less of pressure. So your loved one doesn’t have to lose enormous amounts of weight to see a reduction in pain.
So encourage your loved one to do the following:
- Exercise. Help your loved one to set up a daily time slot for regular, low-impact exercise. Have them consult with their doctor to make sure that they exercise safely. Without regular exercise, weight loss is going to be more difficult.
- Eat nutritious meals and snacks. Eating healthy is not only crucial for weight loss, it’s crucial for how your loved one’s general well-being. If they lived in a skilled nursing facility, talk to the management to make sure there are enough healthy choices.
- Get enough vitamins. Certain vitamins, especially vitamin C and vitamin D, have proven themselves to be effective in managing inflammation. Talk to your loved one about eating dark, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and, of course, citrus fruits for vitamin C, and to get more sunshine for that vitamin D. Do not encourage them to take supplements or pills of any kind before consulting with their health team.
Stress is something we all have to deal with. However, the older we get, the more vulnerable we become to stress. It’s not uncommon to see an older adult stress out over something that wouldn’t have bothered them when they were younger.
Regardless of age, though, constant stress is bad for arthritis. The difficult part is that arthritis itself is a rather stress-inducing condition. It causes a reduction in everyday functioning, triggers feelings of helplessness and/or dependency, and can be a real drain on your loved one’s bank account. All of that brings on high levels of stress, which cause a tightening in the muscles, which causes worse arthritis pain, which exacerbates all the feelings we listed, which leads to more stress, which…
You get the idea.
Here are some stress-reducing lifestyle changes you can help your loved one implement:
- Vacation. Help you loved one get away. A change in location and atmosphere can do wonders for relieving stress. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive trip to an exotic locale, either; a couple of days in a hotel in a different city or neighboring state is just as good. If going away isn’t feasible, try to arrange a “stay-cation” for them in their home or in their assisted living facility. Get the staff to help you out.
- Sleep. Is your loved one getting enough sleep? Sleep-deprivation, even if it’s mild, is a surefire way to increase stress. Make sure that their sleep environment is a good one – comfortable bed, a cool, dark room, and no electronic devices.
- Keep a journal. Getting feelings out on paper (or on the screen) is a great way to relieve stress. Encourage your loved one to write. Even if they’re resistant to writing about their pan now, they might be open to committing their childhood experiences to writing.
- Breathing. If your loved one is open to it, learn some mindfulness breathing techniques together. These are a powerful stress-reducer.
Most of all, let your loved one know you’re there to help. Lifestyle changes for arthritis aren’t easy. But they’re totally worth it.