8 Targets To Live Better With Arthritis – Flexiseq

8 Targets To Live Better With Arthritis

Making changes in your life can feel overwhelming, but it becomes easier when you break down those changes into a series of small, manageable steps. Doing just one small thing for yourself each day, whether that’s setting and achieving a goal, doing some exercise, or simply having a nice long soak in a warm bubble bath, can add up and by the end of the year you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!

We spoke to Dr Wendy Holden, Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor and Honorary Consultant Rheumatologist, to find out more about target goals for improving your life when you have arthritis.

1. Set goals and develop and action plan

“Once you have a plan of action, you can take the first step to achieving your goal,” says Dr Wendy Holden. “Having a set of small goals that you are able to achieve within a day is a good way of focusing on something positive rather than thinking about your arthritis. It may bring you pain relief as well as helping you manage long-term pain.”

Goals don’t have to be big; they can be anything you want to achieve. In fact, setting yourself small goals that you can complete soon after waking up - whether that’s doing some simple stretches in bed or going for a short morning walk - can increase your confidence and improve your mood for the rest of the day.

2. Do more exercise

“Exercising releases chemicals called endorphins into the body,” says Dr Wendy Holden. “These are the ‘feel good factor’ chemicals which will help lift your mood and give you more energy, both in the short term and long term. Exercise can also be good for strengthening muscles which help support joints and can increase mobility. You don’t have to start big, just make a goal to do more than you’ve done before. For example, if you don’t do anything right now, you can try starting arthritis-friendly chair-based exercises each day.”

You don’t have to go running or get a gym membership to exercise - anything which gets you moving can be really beneficial. Why not try walking for 20 minutes, or think about joining a dance or yoga class? Gardening, dancing, swimming, stretching and even cleaning your house can help strengthen the muscles and keep you fit - so just find something you enjoy and want to incorporate into your life.

3. Relax and learn how to meditate

“Arthritis can cause muscles to become tense, which will make them painful to move,” says Dr Holden. “The purpose of relaxation is to release muscle tension throughout the body. Relaxing properly is a skill that has to be learned. There are many good books on relaxation and meditation techniques so check out your local library or bookshop.”

If you’ve never meditated before, consider searching for a free guided meditation on Youtube or attending a meditation event. Buddhist centres often have free meditation sessions, and there are also many apps available to help you learn how to meditate.

“Often when we are in pain we tend to tense up and breathe shallowly,” says Dr Holden. “This is not a good way to manage pain. It may seem to help in the short term, but eventually it can lead to further pain. Learning to breathe deeply and from your diaphragm will help you ‘go with the pain’ and be more in control, which lessens the fear of pain. Pilates, Tai Chi or Alexander technique classes all show you how to regulate your breathing and have the added benefit of mixing with others.”

Deep breathing can help regulate your nervous system, which helps your body go from a state of stress into ‘rest and digest’. You can find guided breathwork exercises on Youtube, some websites teach free techniques, or if you’re up for it there are breathwork events which can be great for delving deeper into the practice and meeting like-minded people.

4. Improve your sleep pattern

“A poor sleep pattern is a common complaint from individuals with chronic pain,” says Dr Holden. “Lack of sleep can increase stress levels and inflammatory hormones, which make pain worse.” Strategies for improving a poor sleep pattern include:

  • Practise meditation which can reduce stress levels.
  • Try to avoid napping during the day.
  • Develop a sleep ritual which relaxes you before bed.
  • Avoid stimulating drinks in the evening and change your bedtime drink to a calming herbal infusion or a warm milky drink.

Light can have a massive impact on your circadian rhythm and how alert you feel during the day vs how tired you feel at night. If it’s possible, try to maximise the amount of light you’re seeing in the mornings. It’s a great idea to get outside soon after waking up for just 5-15 minutes to naturally wake yourself up and increase your dopamine levels, which is the neurochemical for motivation, drive and movement. As the day gets darker, using dimmer lights can help your body start winding down. If possible, avoid using bright overhead lights at night, use softer lights or red lights in your bedroom, and avoid the bright bathroom light when you’re getting ready for bed (or getting up in the middle of the night) as that can reduce your melatonin levels and wake you up!

5. Start using an app to track your symptoms

Everyone’s experience with arthritis is different, so it’s a good idea to keep track of your symptoms to help you spot patterns and plan accordingly. These apps are also a good source of motivation, as many let you track your fitness goals and can offer tutorials in exercise and physiotherapy to help you make sure you’re moving safely. You can find a list of our recommended arthritis apps here.

6. Add healthy foods to your diet

There is no one-size-fits-all diet for optimal health. Eating a healthy, balanced diet with minimal processed foods and salty or sugary snacks is the goal, but aside from that it’s more important that you’re following a diet you enjoy and can stick to rather than trying to limit too many food groups or jumping on the latest diet fad which may not actually be that healthy. Rather than trying to change your entire diet, why not try adding one anti-inflammatory food and see if you like it/notice any benefits. Anti-inflammatory foods that you may want to try include berries like blackberries, raspberries or strawberries, fatty fish such as salmon, sardines or mackerel, or vegetables like broccoli, avocados, peppers and mushrooms.

7. Try reducing your medication

Whilst there is no cure for arthritis, a combination of medication, a healthy lifestyle and exercise can help you alleviate and manage your symptoms. Medication can be an important part of your healthy lifestyle and we’re not suggesting you stop taking it if you find it helpful. Some people may, however, want to reduce the amount of medication they’re taking - particularly if the medication contains opiates or if you’re taking a lot of pain relief tablets.

Pain medication can come with side effects, and some (such as those containing codeine) are not recommended for long term use as they can be very addictive and can cause drowsiness, nausea and constipation. Rather than going cold turkey on your medication, speak to your doctor about reducing your dose, or taking it slightly less frequently. If you’re looking for drug free pain relief, FlexiSEQ gels are clinically proven to alleviate pain associated with osteoarthritis. Using FlexiSEQ can help you improve your mobility, lubricate your joints and, as it is drug free, can be used alongside other medications.

8. Stay in touch with your friends

Living with arthritis can be isolating, especially if you’re having a bad pain flare up and don’t feel up to much. It’s important that you nurture your relationships and be honest with the people close to you when you’re struggling. Wendy Holden gives the following example of making small steps to avoid isolation and ensure you maintain relationships with your friends.

  • Contact a friend.
  • Ask yourself: what do I need to do to achieve this?
  • Decide the best way of making contact (phone, email, text, letter or meeting them face to face).
  • What do you need for your method of contact and how do you get it?
  • What do you want to say – a general chat or something specific, arrange a time to meet?

What small steps have you taken to live a better life with your arthritis? Let us know on Facebook.

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