Healthy Living

The Best Lifestyle Choices for Rheumatoid Arthritis

The Best Lifestyle Choices for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Key Takeaways

  • Positive lifestyle changes can do wonders for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and the condition's overall outcome.
  • Like in any health condition, it is important that the patient builds a good support system. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly known to affect the joints; however, the condition actually affects the whole body.

Positive lifestyle changes can do wonders for rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and the condition's overall outcome. There is significant evidence that lifestyle intervention promotes better prognosis and prolongs the life of patients with the condition. In other words, good lifestyle choices make life easier with rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a prevalent condition. Estimates show that the condition affects around 22.7 percent of the adult population or almost 1 in every 4 adults in the United States. However, the problem does not stop there. Almost a fourth of these patients report no leisure activities due to the condition.

Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can cause significant disability, but it should not stop patients from adopting a healthier lifestyle. Patients can reap a lot of benefits by simply changing their lifestyle choices.

Why Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Occur and How Is It Treated?

Rheumatoid arthritis is commonly known to affect the joints; however, the condition actually affects the whole body. It occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells, usually affecting the joints and causing them to become inflamed. The joint will also become warm and red, causing the patient significant discomfort, especially during exercise. The exact reason why the immune system suddenly becomes abnormal is still not known. Doctors still do not completely understand why the joints are the first and most severely affected by the condition. Rheumatoid arthritis causes the joints to become stiff, tender, or deformed. Pain greatly increases with motion, and limitation of motion may occur. Over time, the condition can destroy the cartilage and underlying bones of the joints, causing significant and permanent disability.

Doctors usually treat rheumatoid arthritis with medications. Formerly, the drug of choice is a corticosteroid, which works by downregulating the activity of the immune system. However, corticosteroids also have significant side effects.

The mainstay treatment today are drugs known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS), which work in the same manner as corticosteroids but have a slower onset. DMARDS also encompass several different types of drugs.

Why Do Lifestyle Choices Matter?

Changing one's lifestyle may be an important factor in improving outcomes and enhancing physical functioning. Surprisingly, certain measures also prevent or correct deformities caused by the condition.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis does not mean that the rest of your life will be bleak. Early treatment of the condition and adopting certain lifestyle choices can help reduce flares and the overall impact of the disease.

Keeping a Healthy Weight

Sticking to a normal body weight reduces stress on your joints. It is the only way to reduce the impact on your joints and achieve better mobility. Weight loss also reduces your risk of developing other health complications such as diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

Most patients find weight loss a challenging endeavor. Some medicines used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, such as corticosteroids, can cause weight gain. The most effective method of losing weight is by simply eating less and becoming more active. Observe proper portions, stick to calorie limits, and stay away from fast food. If you are consuming fewer calories than you need, you will surely lose weight.

In addition, you can also ask for a dietitian to help you.

Eating a Healthy, Anti-Inflammatory Diet

There is evidence showing that certain foods may help bring down inflammation in the body. Here are some of the recommended foods:

  • High-fiber foods such as whole fruits and vegetables are known to lower CRP (C-reactive protein) levels, which is the marker of inflammation in the bloodstream.
  • Oily fish such as salmon, trout, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties. Moreover, omega-3 also helps normalize high blood pressure and promotes better blood circulation in the body.
  • Extra virgin olive oil contains phenols, which are known to lower inflammation levels. Do not cook or heat olive oil. Doing so may break down its bioactive components.
  • Eat foods high in selenium such as whole wheat bran and shellfish (oysters, mussels, and crabs). A lot of patients with rheumatoid arthritis are deficient in selenium, which is used by the body to make antioxidants to reduce inflammation.
  • There is good evidence that sticking to a Mediterranean diet, which is based on whole grains, olive oil, fresh cheese, oily fish, berries, and beans can help reduce inflammation in the body.

Always remember to monitor portions. If you are into fiber-rich food, make sure you are receiving adequate protein intake to prevent muscle wasting, which can be disastrous in rheumatoid arthritis.

There are some foods that may increase inflammation. Such foods include processed or canned items, grilled red meat, and fried foods. These foods are also high in calories; thus, they should be avoided if possible. 

Stick to a Lifestyle with Regular Exercise 

Although difficult and painful, exercise has unique benefits to individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Therefore, it is always a good idea to exercise every now and then. Exercising provides benefits that you cannot get from medications. It preserves muscle mass and promotes an improved functioning of the joints. Regular exercises also reduce the risk of complications and early death. Feel free to ask your doctor for prescribed painkillers if you find exercise unbearable due to pain.

In terms of recommended exercises, anything goes as long as it is low impact (no marathons) and does not put you at risk of being injured. According to the American College of Rheumatology, good exercises include walking, bicycling, swimming, and lifting weights. These exercises are unlikely to cause joint pain and are also enjoyable.

Build a Strong Social Support Network

Adopt a sociable lifestyle. Living with rheumatoid arthritis does not mean living on your own. Like in any health condition, it is important that the patient builds a good support system. Start with your family or circle of friends, talk to the people in your neighborhood, or reach out to support groups on the internet.

Consider having someone to talk to about your condition as part of your treatment. Being in a social group gives patients the opportunity to share their stories about living with rheumatoid arthritis.