In the United States alone, over 1.5 million adults are living with rheumatoid arthritis. For many, living with RA means taking a bit longer to complete once-simple tasks.
People with RA know that pushing too hard can result in additional joint pain and stiffness. It’s not always easy to check off that endless to-do list while coping with RA and its unpredictable complications.
Below are 5 critical considerations that can help you to make lifestyle improvements and get certain things done--with less pain and stress.
Get a good night’s sleep
Living with RA may cause you to experience difficulty sleeping due to the painful symptoms that it can trigger. But several studies have found that being sleep-deprived can actually worsen your symptoms. Although medications used to reduce sleep-related problems may help, you may want to consider trying out a few things before resorting to medical help. Try going into bed at the same time every night and avoid consuming caffeine or exercising after 4pm. Instead, take a few simple steps towards overcoming your sleep obstacles by being smart about napping, spending more time outside during daylight, avoiding watching TV and screens in bed, keeping your room dark when it’s time to go to bed, and avoiding big meals before going to bed. You may find a few therapeutic approaches, such as massages and stretching, to be helpful in allowing you to get a good night’s sleep.
Set realistic goals for yourself
Joint pain and stiffness from RA can make tasks around the house even harder. Don’t try to do it all at once. For instance, once your laundry is clean and dry, put away what you really need at the moment and do the rest later. Keep the laundry basket close to your chest as opposed to carrying it with your arms stretched outward - this will only add to your RA-related joint pain. You could also consider using a basket on wheels to move your laundry from room to room. It might be a short trip, but it could make all the difference.
The same goes for cooking and cleaning. Consider using cooking and cleaning equipment with comfortable, rubber grips to protect your joints. Above all, change the way you use your joints so that you do not add pain and stress to your body. For instance, place one foot a little bit in front of the other to help you maintain your balance or if you have to stand for longer period of time, consider leaning against a wall or a chair to alleviate the weight off your body. Always be mindful of what your body is doing and feeling at all times. Take a mental note when certain things feel more comfortable or uncomfortable.
Do not exhaust yourself. Take breaks when you need them. Even though you may feel your best when you wake up, trying to complete your to-do list all in one morning can have you feeling fatigued and achy the rest of the day. While it is good to stay active, some tasks may be too much for you to handle on your own. Divide your tasks throughout the day and don’t be shy about asking for help from your family or friends when you need it.
Eat well and exercise on a regular basis
A diet that is rich in vitamins and minerals, as well as the proper amount of calories, is vital when you have RA. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish such as salmon and mackerel, may help alleviate joint pain and inflammation associated with RA. “A diet high in foods that are anti-inflammatory may be beneficial in dealing with RA. An anti-inflammatory diet has plenty of green leafy veggies like spinach and kale, tomatoes, broccoli, as well as other antioxidant-rich plant-based foods such as cherries, blueberries, and strawberries,” said Kristi King, dietitian.
Although it can sound impossible, exercising on a regular basis provides several benefits to individuals living with RA. It’s important to not push yourself to exercise when you’re in pain. Swimming is particularly recommended for those with RA because the water helps to maintain range of motion around the joints, all while supporting the body. Even just floating around in the pool is therapeutic for your joints.
Stretching and strengthening exercises can also help keep your muscles, joints, and heart healthy. Whenever you need to relax your muscles and alleviate joint inflammation, consider placing hot or cold packs on the affected joints. Amid several different types of exercise routines, Tai Chi, an ancient Chinese practice, combines slow movements and breathing exercises that can help to alleviate joint stiffness and improve your strength and balance. Research indicates that Tai Chi can be a safe and effective form of exercise for individuals with RA, allowing you to ease your symptoms and to focus on your well-being.
Keep track of your medications and appointments
When living with RA, you may have to take different medications during different times of the day to help manage your symptoms. You may also need to go to doctor’s appointments on a regular basis. For this reason, try and set a daily routine for yourself, and plan ahead. For instance, keep track of your medications by getting a pill organizer. It can help you to take the right medication at the right time every day you need it. Even try out mail-order pharmacies to deliver automatic refills of your medications. If your schedule ever changes, make a reminder of it. Set alerts on your phone or hang up a calendar in some part of your home where you are sure to see it. This can also help to remind you about your doctor’s appointments that are right around the corner. Being well-prepared can help you remove just a bit of stress from your daily life.
Make use of assistive devices
Research has found that assistive devices for RA have been greatly associated with improved well-being. Such devices can help you to shower, get dressed, cook, write, and do all sorts of other tasks in a much simpler manner. These devices can also make you feel more independent, therefore helping to improve your quality of life. Consider using devices and gadgets that can help you to reach, grab, and twist certain items in ways that will avoid added stress to your joints, but rather protect them. You can find them in stores or even order them online to be delivered to your doorstep.
You know better than anyone that it isn’t easy to live with a condition that triggers painful symptoms and flare-ups, but by adjusting your lifestyle for the better, you can take good care of every aspect of your health and well-being. Focus on the tasks and activities that are of high priority to you and learn how to disperse your energy throughout the day. Educating yourself on RA and how your body responds to the condition can help you to remain positive. “Being positive is not going to make my RA go away. But it does make my experience of life with it a more enjoyable one. Building that habit has lent a lightness to my days and given me more confidence in my ability to cope through the challenges of living with a chronic illness,” said Lene Andersen, health/disability advocate and Community Leader for the HealthCentral RA Community. By taking control of your life, you can improve both your physical and mental well-being.