These seven simple strategies can help keep symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis under control and help you live well with RA:
- Lighten your load Every extra pound you carry puts four pounds of stress on your knees, and even a small amount of weight loss will provide relief. Talk to your doctor about the best program for you.
- Move often, but carefully Regular and even vigorous exercise is critical for improving flexibility and maintaining muscle to support joints, but opt for low-impact exercises like swimming, biking and yoga that let you work out without painful pounding (and go especially easy during a flare). Avoid lifting heavy weights, which can be hard on tendons around the wrist. You might even consider a few sessions with a personal trainer who has experience with RA patients.
- Protect your heart Because RA involves inflammation, it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. Keep your heart as healthy as possible by maintaining normal blood pressure, avoiding smoking and keeping cholesterol levels under control.
- Build strong bones Corticosteroid treatments can increase your odds of developing osteoporosis up to 50 percent. Prevent bone loss by getting 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Supplements are an option, but the best sources of this mineral are milk, yogurt, broccoli, kale and salmon.
- Deter depression Living with a chronic illness is challenging on many levels. Depression affects approximately 20 percent of people with RA and can actually worsen symptoms. Ask your doctor about treatment options or a referral to a mental-health professional.
- Get a flu shot The flu is especially dangerous for anyone who has a chronic illness or an immune system suppressed by drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people who have autoimmune diseases get an annual flu shot.
- Soothe pain your way Some people find a warm pack or bath soothing and pain relieving. Others prefer cold, which decreases blood flow to the inflamed area and eases muscle spasms. You can buy hot and cold packs from a drugstore, or use a hot water bottle or a pack of frozen vegetables.
From our sister publication, REMEDY (Summer 2011)