. Diet, exercise and lifestyle are three keys to how you can manage arthritis

. Keep active, stay moving and avoid slipping into a sedentary lifestyle

. Try and limit salt, sugar and processed food and look to incorporate fish and vegetables into your diet

Arthritis is commonly referred to as pain, discomfort or dysfunction in the joints and is obviously quite common in seniors because of the natural wear and tear that occurs over a lifetime of living but is occasionally seen in younger people as well. Over the course of this article we will go through an overview of arthritis and some of the ways we can delay its effects as well as how to manage it if you already have it.

The first thing to note is that like a lot of ailments they are sometimes outside of our control and despite our best efforts we may not be able to actually prevent the problem from taking hold due to a variety of genetic factors, hereditary and things of that nature. But the first thing we will look at in regards to prevention is the importance of getting into good exercise habits to strengthen the area around the joints to lessen the impact and potential for inflammation in case problems arise down the road.

As we always say, exercise doesn’t have to be overly taxing or time consuming – it just has to be consistent and regular – a couple of times a week so your body will adapt and naturally get stronger over time. A national health survey recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise for Australian adults. The AIHW states that 75 per cent of people over 65 were not sufficiently active as of 2014/5 so there is certainly some work to be done there.

This study outlines the correlation between the benefits of exercise in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. It states ‘The importance for the inclusion of exercise training in the treatment of RA is now clear and proven. Exercise in general seems to improve overall function in RA without any proven detrimental effects to disease activity. Thus all RA patients should be encouraged to include some form of aerobic and resistance exercise training as part of their routine care.’

It also recommends that any exercise program should be appropriately supervised: ‘Exercise programs for RA patients should be initially supervised by an experienced exercise professional so that the program can be tailored to individual aspirations and adapted to the disease activity, joint defects, and symptoms of patients.’

In regards to exercise, while it’s important to exercise regularly, it’s also important to exercise correctly. Your joints are like shock absorbers and you want to treat them well. Learn and use the right technique so you’re not putting undue stress on the body. You must also understand the value of stretching to warm up your muscles as a more flexible body is a body less likely to succumb to injury.

In regards to diet, one theme that always emerges is the value of fish in regards to the prevention and management of arthritis. According to the arthritis foundation : ‘Among the most potent edible inflammation fighters are essential fatty acids called omega-3s – particularly the kinds of fatty acids found in fish.’ In terms of what type of fish to source, they go on to say: ‘The best sources of marine omega-3s are fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Eating a 3- to 6-ounce serving of these fish two to four times a week is recommended for lowering inflammation and protecting the heart.’

This study makes some further observations on dietary interventions and the role they can play in how you can manage arthritis: ‘We believe that an ideal meal can include raw or moderately cooked vegetables (lots of greens, legumes), with addition of spices like turmeric and ginger, seasonal fruits, probiotic yogurt; all of which are good sources of natural antioxidants and deliver anti-inflammatory effects.’

It goes on to say that ‘The patient should avoid any processed food, high salt, oils, butter, sugar, and animal products. Dietary supplements like vitamin D, cod liver oil, and multivitamins  can also help in managing RA.’ As for managing arthritis day to day there are certainly some common sense principles you can apply to your everyday life. Even if you’re not emotionally invested in a formal, structured exercise program, you still need to make some effort to stay active and move around or the condition will deteriorate.

This is important to keep the blood circulating, the joints moving and the body in motion, all of which will lessen the impact of whatever pain you’re in. It’s important to try and avoid living a sedentary lifestyle which will only exaggerate the condition. Walking, swimming and low impact exercises are a good way to manage arthritis if you’re not inclined to undertake a formal exercise and training program. The other benefit of this type of approach is that it will help you to lose weight which will obviously ease the burden on your knees, hips and joints.

References

ABS stats

https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-active-evidence.htm

AIHW stats

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2018/contents/indicators-of-australias-health/physical-inactivity

NCBI: Benefits of exercise in rheumatoid arthritis

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042669/

Arthritis Foundation

https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/healthy-eating/best-fish-for-arthritis

NCBI: Managing rheumatoid arthritis with dietary interventions

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5682732/