You’ve witnessed your grandma or mom dealing with the pain of arthritis. Now you’re crossing your fingers, hoping you’ve missed the genetic lotto that doles out inherited diseases like arthritis. The good news is, it’s not just genetics that influence your chances of developing arthritis: your lifestyle plays a role as well. That means you can actually reduce your chances of getting this debilitating disease by making lifestyle changes today.
Many of the lifestyle changes that can help reduce your chances of developing arthritis also have other health benefits.
What is Arthritis?
When we think of “arthritis” we tend to picture seniors with painful swollen joints. In truth, “arthritis” is an informal way of referring to more than 100 different kinds of diseases that affect both young and old individuals, and can cause pain and debilitation in every joint of the body.
Three common types of arthritis are:
Here are a few surprising facts about arthritis from the Arthritis Foundation:
- Nearly 53 million adults have arthritis.
- Almost 300,000 babies, kids and teens have arthritis or a rheumatic condition.
- In the U.S., arthritis is the number one cause of disability.
- Arthritis and related conditions account for more than $156 billion annually in lost wages and medical expenses.
How to Prevent Arthritis
Genetic factors that play a role in the development of arthritis are not preventable – you are more likely to develop the disease if you are female and there is a history of arthritis in your family. But there’s good news. Even if you have a genetic predisposition, lifestyle changes can help delay the onset of arthritis or prevent you from developing it at all.
There are three major ways to prevent or delay the onset of arthritis:
- Cartilage cushions our joints – you want to reduce the wearing down of this cartilage.
- Arthritis involves inflammation – you want to reduce inflammation in your body.
- Research has found that arthritis is more common among people who have specific chronic conditions. You want to prevent yourself from developing these conditions.
- 49 percent of adults with heart disease have arthritis.
- 47 percent of adults with diabetes have arthritis.
- 31 percent of adults who are obese have arthritis.
These are the specific lifestyle changes you can make today to protect your joints’ cartilage, reduce inflammation and prevent yourself from developing the other diseases associated with arthritis:
- Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight by exercising and choosing healthy food reduces your chances of developing heart disease, obesity, diabetes – and arthritis.
Maintaining a healthy weight also reduces the amount of pressure you’re carrying on your knees. The more pressure on your knees, the more pressure on your knees’ cartilage. Once that cartilage breaks down, you face some tough decisions about how to deal with chronic knee pain.
- Follow an Anti Inflammatory Diet
An anti inflammatory diet can not only reduce inflammation, it can also help you maintain a healthy weight. There are different ways to approach an anti inflammatory diet and differing levels of dietary restrictions. In general you want to:
- Eat fruits and vegetables
- Eat whole grains like rice, quinoa, oats, barley and corn
- Eat lean protein
- Do not consume processed foods, sugar, alcohol, fast food, TV dinners and bread and bread products
An anti inflammatory diet is a lifestyle change that does not focus on just losing weight. That heavily processed “lean” TV dinner might help you cut calories but is not part of an anti inflammatory diet.
A dietician may be able to help you make better food choices, create healthy habits and stick to them. Let’s be honest: changing your diet is tough. Luckily, with a little practice you can make delicious meals using whole, healthy foods that will make you feel better, give you energy and help prevent arthritis.
- Control Blood Sugar
When we eat food, our blood sugar rises as our bodies process the food. All food causes an increase in blood sugar, not just dessert, but some foods – like candy, pop and bagels – cause a sudden spike in our blood sugar. We can reduce these spikes by following an anti inflammatory diet.
Another way to prevent spikes in blood sugar is by talking an apple cider vinegar tonic before each meal. Add apple cider vinegar to a glass of water before meals to reduce blood sugar levels. You must use apple cider vinegar with the mother in it. Multiple studies have shown the positive effects of this simple tonic on your blood sugar levels.
- Reduce Repetitive Tasks
Some jobs, sports and activities – such as factory work, tennis and typing – put repetitive strain on specific joints. They can not only cause a repetitive motion injury, if you are predisposed to arthritis, they can cause the cartilage in the joint to wear down.
Evaluate your job tasks, sports and activities for repetitive motions that could cause pain and injury. Build multiple small breaks into your day to give your joints a rest. If you are playing tennis or a sport that can strain your shoulders make sure you are doing stretches and exercises to prevent injury.
- Replace High Impact Sports With Low Impact Activities
Some people don’t feel like they’re getting a workout unless they’re gasping for breath, but in reality, low impact exercises and activities can provide a great workout without damaging your joint cartilage. High impact sports like running, basketball and football cause wear and tear of cartilage in our joints. Strength training, brisk walking, swimming and yoga are all excellent low impact exercises.
- Quit Smoking
If you need another reason to quit smoking – besides lung cancer and emphysema – here it is: smoking can lead to worse arthritis. If you’ve tried to quit on your own and can’t, there are medications that can help you quit.
These lifestyle changes will improve your overall health and wellbeing, with the added benefit of helping to prevent the onset of arthritis. If you’re already experiencing pain and stiffness in your joints, don’t delay seeing a specialist about your symptoms.