Managing Arthritis With Diet and Exercise

Positive lifestyle changes can help you take control of your arthritis.

Apr. 15, 2008— -- "I'll jump out this window before I do any of those exercises today."

Yes, it's a fact that pain can drive you insane, affecting your mood, productivity and even how you express yourself. When you are in pain, the only thing that you are interested in is relief.

Many will automatically reach for pain medication. Yet, is it always necessary to do so? Are there any other solutions that might work just as well, or even better?

To answer this question in relation to arthritis, it might help to take a closer look at what arthritis is — and why it is such a painful condition.

A healthy joint consists of strong bones, each with a healthy complement of cartilage, to ease the friction between the ends of the bones when movement occurs. To further this aim, a sac containing synovial fluid also lubricates the joint for smooth function.

It's an elegant system. But overuse and nutritional imbalances can lead to a breakdown of the cartilages, leading to painful friction. This is when arthritis occurs.

A Closer Look at Arthritis

In general, there are two different kinds of joint pain which are classified as arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis — also known as degenerative joint disease — involves deterioration of the cartilage protecting the ends of the bones. It can be caused by injury, or through an inherited protein defect that causes improper formation of this cartilage. But this kind of arthritis is most commonly blamed on wear-and-tear of the joint through lifestyle, diet and aging.

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder. This kind of arthritis develops because the immune system identifies the synovial membrane as foreign. Inflammation results, which damages the cartilage in and around the joint. Fever, fatigue, swelling, weight loss and crippling pain are some of the hallmark signs of rheumatoid arthritis. This type of arthritis also tends to develop all over the body, which makes it particularly difficult.

For either of these conditions, however, a change in lifestyle and diet might help.

Supplements: a Key to Fighting Arthritis?

The potential of supplements to help combat the pain and loss of function that accompanies arthritis is a matter of contention. When it comes to solid, research-proven benefits, the jury is still out. Yet, many swear by certain supplements for this condition. Here are just a few examples:

Bromelain is an enzyme that is thought to help to stimulate the production of prostaglandins, which reduce inflammation. This supplement is often taken between meals.

Essential fatty acids are another nutrient that may help generate prostaglandins, according to some studies. Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 increase production and activity of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.

Glucosamine and SAMe are thought by some to be important in the formation of the tissues around the joint and fluids. Yet, many have argued against taking these supplements, maintaining that there is no proof that these substances are stored by the body where they are needed.

Yet, the best supplement of all to implement is proper food. Proper, nutritious food has yielded health effects that surpass any kind of supplement that you can take into your body.

Exercising for Pain Relief

You probably thought that you would get away without hearing about exercise when it comes to arthritis relief, right? Well, you're wrong!

Many people with arthritis experience pain not only when they move, but they also experience stiffness soreness in the body after long periods of sitting. One individual with those issues recently told me, "I walk fairly regularly, but I do not do anything else fitness-wise — no machines, no weights, floor exercises, exercise balls or classes."

Sorry, but walking is not just enough to improve your condition. Exercises, including activities that engage the full body, are recommended for individuals with arthritis. This is not just to help joint mobility, or to prevent loss of lean muscle tissue through the aging process, or to maintain strength, or to reduce pain and stiffness, or even to mobilize stiff or contracted joints. The most important benefit of this activity is that it helps people with arthritis to stay independent.

Of course, the type of exercise performed needs to be done with due consideration to each individual's stage of arthritis. Yes, it will be sometimes challenging because of fatigue and discomfort following an exercise program. Hence, it is important to find the right balance for your condition. But don't shy away from physical activity; our body's systems are designed to move, and when you stop moving that system starts to fall apart.

Here are a few guidelines for working with pain and stiffness:

Do low-impact activities, which includes walking, speed walking, swimming and lifting weights.

Put all joints through the full range of motion at least once a day, according to your ability. If you need help starting out, hire a personal trainer who can assist you.

Emphasize proper body alignment at all times. As a rule, your toe, ankle, knee, hip and shoulder should be in one line if you look at yourself in front of a mirror.

Modify the intensity on days where you have flare-ups.

Take enough time for warm-up. Prepare your body for your workout activities to come.

It is up to you and your doctor to decide whether you will require supervision of a healthcare practitioner to exercise with arthritis.

But please make an effort to stay mobile, in shape and independent. These days, we are living to 80, 90 and 100. Preparation for your life at that age does not just happen overnight; it is a process. And your progress should start now.

Stefan Aschan is a leading expert on lifestyle, health and fitness who has helped more than 30,000 people get fit through advice on nutrition, fitness and lifestyle changes. For your free must read "updates and solution" newsletter on how to have 10 times more success, stay on top of your goals, and accomplish the change of body and appearance," visit

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