Arthritis is an informal way of referring to more than 100 different kinds of diseases that affect both young and old individuals and can cause pain and debilitation in every joint of the body. When you’re dealing with joint pain, everyday tasks such as getting in and out of the shower, getting dressed or making the bed can feel like a struggle.
Inflammatory arthritis is an umbrella term for numerous conditions where our immune system goes rogue and attacks us, typically causing pain, swelling and stiffness in one or more joints. Its three main types are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. Each type develops differently, but all are painful and can lead to joint deformity and a loss of function.
You can’t always prevent arthritis. Some causes, such as age, and family history, are out of your control. Two things we can’t change: our genes have a strong effect, and being female brings twice the risk of developing the condition. But emerging research shows there are indeed life-affirming things we can do that may help significantly.
The proportion of adults in England diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis increased by at least 40% between 2004 and 2020, says research by Keele University in The Lancet Regional Health Journal. Diagnoses are increasing, but there are lifestyle changes that can help. A few healthy habits can help reduce your risk of developing painful joints as you get older. Many of these practices, such as exercising and eating a healthy diet, help prevent other diseases too:
- Eat oily fish and nuts
Healthy eating is liable to boost your immune system’s regulation. This is supported by Swedish research published in The Journal of Nutrition, which found that an “anti-inflammatory diet” reduced signs of pain and swelling in a study of people with rheumatoid arthritis.
There are different ways to approach an anti-inflammatory diet and differing levels of dietary restrictions. In general, you want to:
- Eat fruits and vegetables
- Eat whole grains like rice, quinoa, oats, barley, corn
- Eat lean protein
When we eat food, our blood sugar rises as our bodies process the food. All food causes an increase in blood sugar, not just dessert, but some foods – like sweets – cause a sudden spike in our blood sugar. We can reduce these spikes by following an anti-inflammatory diet.
An anti-inflammatory diet is a lifestyle change that does not focus on just losing weight. Let’s be honest: changing your diet is tough. Luckily, with a little practice you can make delicious meals using whole, healthy foods that will make you feel better, give you energy and help prevent arthritis.
- Cut out junk food
It seems that poor diets foster the growth of toxic gut bacteria that provoke the autoimmune response in rheumatoid arthritis. Proliferation of these three types is associated with junk-food diets high in chips, meat, savoury snacks, mayonnaise, and soft drinks.
- Even relatively small weight gains can increase risk
Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising and choosing healthy food may help to protect against arthritic pains and reduce your chances of developing heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Keeping a healthy weight also reduces the amount of pressure you’re carrying on your knees. The more pressure on your knees, the more pressure on your knees’ cartilage. Your knees have to support the weight of your body, so being overweight can take a real toll on them.
Arthritis pain and stiffness set in when the cartilage – the rubbery cushion in the joints that absorbs shock for the bones and allows them to glide smoothly when we move – wears away. When there isn’t enough cartilage left in the joint to protect the bones from damaging each other, we feel it.
- Drinking: moderation is good
Some positive news – moderate drinking (14 units a week maximum for men and women) may reduce the risk of arthritic pain.
Smoking on the other hand, is a definite no-no. smoking causes chronic inflammation in the gums and the lungs. This in turn triggers the immune system to attack the body.
- Regular walking can reduce pain by 40%
Many believe that exercise can damage your joints. But sedentariness is the real enemy. If your joints are inflamed it’s tempting to rest, but that’s the worst thing you can do. Neither sitting nor standing on your feet all day is good for your joints. When possible, alternate between the two to prevent stiffness and strain. If your job primarily involves sitting, try to take a break and stand up every 30 minutes or so. Whether at home or at the office, make time for simple stretches throughout the day.
Some people don’t feel like they’re getting a workout unless they’re gasping for breath, but in reality, low impact exercise and activities can provide a great workout without damaging your joint cartilage. High impact sports like running, basketball and football cause wear and tear of cartilage in our joints. Strength training, brisk walking, swimming, and yoga are all excellent low impact exercises.
- Early treatment is key
Experts agree that getting diagnosed and treated early can prevent inflammatory arthritic pains, thanks to new-generation therapies. If you have arthritis, it’s important to look after your joints to avoid further damage.
Don’t just soldier on with pains that might be arthritic – see your doctor. This is particularly true for morning joint stiffness that can last for a couple of hours in places such as your lower back and your fingers.
A good night’s sleep will help you cope with the pain and stress of arthritis. To sleep better, try going to bed at the same time every night. Take distractions like television and computers out of your bedroom. If you’re uncomfortable in bed because of arthritis, try using pillows to take the pressure off painful joints. If you have frequent sleep problems, talk to your doctor. *DREEM TIP* Try using Bed Balm before going to sleep – non-greasy and easily absorbed, massage Bed Balm into localised areas and melt away stress.