Managing Osteoarthritis with a Healthy Lifestyle

Arthritis can make movement painful, especially when it affects load bearing joints such as the spine, hips, knees, or hands. Often the first thought is to avoid moving, or limit using these joints, more than necessary to avoid further damage or pain symptoms. Millions of Canadians struggle with the impacts of Arthritis every day. Chronic pain and not being able to care for yourself, or to do the things that you love, can have not only physical impacts, but huge emotional implications as well. Movement is an important part of life and it allows us to enjoy life every day to the fullest. It is because of this painful movement that many of those people who struggle with Arthritis begin to avoid moving all together. However, avoiding movement through an arthritic joint can actually lead to a quicker degeneration of the joint and worse symptoms down the line. It might seem paradoxical, but movement and lifestyle management are among the best ways to treat Arthritis!
Let’s start by taking a look at Osteoarthritis, the most common form of joint disease, and what is causing the pain and decreased movement. At the intersection of any two joints, there is a space which contains synovial fluid and articular cartilage. These structures provide support and reduce friction and impact at a joint. As these structures begin to degenerate, it can cause swelling, pain, and reduced movement. Although the exact cause of Osteoarthritis is unknown, there are a number of likely contributing factors, including: obesity, family history, an old injury, or repetitive strain. Typically, these factors contribute to the degeneration of the joint of time and often become a larger problem along with aging. Even though there is no cure for Osteoarthritis, a number of treatments can be used to control symptoms and slow the rate of degeneration of the affected joint.
So How Can Exercise and Lifestyle Help Me?
Through exercise it is possible to help manage Arthritis symptoms in a number of ways.
Weight Loss
Perhaps the most effective way (if applicable) is through weight reduction. By losing weight, it decreases the amount of load placed onto a joint. Obviously, having less force placed upon a joint at all times will have a lessened effect on the rate of degeneration.
Mobility can also help to reduce the symptoms associated with arthritis. By maintaining a healthy and mobile joint, there will be less strain placed upon the joint itself.
Strength and Endurance
Another very effective way in managing arthritis is through resistance training and low impact cardiovascular exercise. Cardiovascular exercise and weight training can help to reduce inflammation throughout the body as a whole. This reduction is inflammation allows for a less dramatic response to arthritis flare-ups and less pain as a result.
Diet is another huge part of managing arthritis. A Westernized diet is typically high in starchy carbohydrates, refined sugars, and saturated fats. While these types of foods may not be damaging in small to moderate quantities, the disproportionate amounts seen in the average person’s diet can actual create inflammatory responses within the body. Not only will this chronic, low-level inflammation add to arthritis symptoms, it will increase risks for heart disease over time. By focusing a diet around whole foods, high in fiber, fats and proteins, and low in refined sugars and starches – levels of inflammation associated with arthritis flare-ups can be lessened.
Stress and Everything Else
Of course, what information piece on disease management would be complete without mentioning the potential toll that stress, smoking, and alcohol have on the body. Stress, smoking, and alcohol can all add to the inflammatory responses as well as the ability our body has to heal and deal with physical stressors. Alcohol should be moderated and – as I’m sure every smoker is tired of hearing – you should not smoke. Stress can be a more complex issue to manage as there are so many components to it, but overall you should try to take time for yourself, unwind, and do things you enjoy! Try meditating, or yoga.
So where do I get started?
The good news is that there is SO much you can do through exercise and lifestyle management to improve your arthritis symptoms. The down side is that this may be daunting.
To get started – always consult your family doctor of course.
Start moving! Begin slowly, adding in regular walking, swimming, or cycling. Slowly increase intensity or time of exercise (never both in the same week) and work your way up. Make a point to regularly stretch and move your joints.
Work on your diet! Begin by eliminating deep-friend, high sugar foods and adding lots more vegetables! Diet is definitely the trickiest bit, so focus on the big picture at first.
Stress Management. Quit smoking. Moderate your alcohol. Get rid, or limit, unnecessary stressors in your life. Meditate! J
Get Help! And, of course, we are always here to help at Ascend Fitness. This fall we will be offering our first OsteoFit Program specific to clients with Osteoarthritis. Many of our current clients struggle with Arthritis and we understand what goes into creating an individualized and comprehensive program to help reduce symptoms and improve their lifestyle. The program will include exercise classes and educational seminars on from nutrition tips, to mobility, to stress management. The program will also feature guest speakers and a take home program. Stay tuned for more information about the program and registration details!
By: Daniel Cryderman

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