Living with a chronic illness is no fun, that’s for sure. Since being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in 2002, I’ve had my fair share of bad days. Not least the four joint replacements I’ve endured. But after qualifying as a health coach, and studying the advice of experts and experiences of fellow sufferers, I now feel more informed and have a routine that works for me. Everyone reacts differently to this condition and my ways of coping will not work for everyone. But I’d like to share my personal tips, in the hope they can help at least a little. Because in the case of arthritis, every little helps.
1. Be your loudest advocate
In the early years of living with arthritis, I lost track of the times people said, ‘it’s just something you have to live with’. Because arthritis is so common and there’s no cure, medical practitioners often have little time or understanding for people with arthritis.
This means YOU have to take responsibility, starting with finding a medical professional who will listen to you and who accepts ‘living with it’ just isn’t good enough. I now have a good medical support team, but it took me time and persistence to find the right people. They exist, but you’ve just have to keep asking. This is your health - don’t settle for second best!
There is a lot of additional information you can find out yourself. The internet is a blessing for people with arthritis, as you suddenly have access to valuable advice and research. But it’s also a minefield of false claims and dubious products. My approach is to always check the sources. Who wrote this article/blog/post? What are their credentials? Better still, look for tips which are evidence-based and researched by a credible institution. All the ingredients in my products have been through this process.
2. Share a little
For years after I was diagnosed, I hardly talked about my condition. I was a bit ashamed, a bit confused, a bit lost. But the sooner you tell people – family, friends and colleagues – the sooner they can help and form a valuable support network. At times, I force myself to step back, not participate in social activities and rest instead - because my body demands it. People you interact with need to know why you are doing this.
3. Eating well is a must
We are what we eat - the food we consume forms the cells our body is made of. Therefore no advice will make a long term difference if your diet is poor. Weight gain is an issue for people with arthritis, as often movement is restricted and every extra kilo carried causes extra pain for already stressed joints. In addition, certain ingredients, especially those commonly present in processed foods and drink, are inflammatory and exacerbate the inflammation which causes discomfort. For me eating well is not optional - I am very disciplined with my diet and I love it! I mainly eat natural, anti-inflammatory foods, with lots of low starch vegetables, some fruit, organic meat, poultry and dairy products. I avoid sugar almost completely (85% cocoa dark chocolate is my treat) and rarely eat processed fats, such as margarine and vegetable oil (instead I use olive and coconut oil). I drink plenty of tea, especially green tea which is anti-inflammatory, and lots of water. Do I enjoy the occasional croissant or pizza? Yes! But occasional means once or twice a month. And, honestly, once you’ve weaned your body off sugar and junk food, fresh food just tastes the best.
4. Get all the help you can
For fully healthy people with excellent diets, there is evidence that taking additional vitamins and minerals through supplements is unnecessary. But because I have arthritis, pretty badly, I want to benefit from certain nutrients and it’s almost impossible to get them naturally in large enough doses. There is really strong evidence that specific ingredients, in high doses, such as curcumin and vitamin K, can have positive impact on people with inflammatory conditions. After many years of research and trialing, I found a combination of 15 ingredients that works for me. It was a pain buying so many different supplement separately - especially when travelling - so I created my own supplement, Joint Care, which contains them all.
5. Exercise is not optional
Views on the role of exercise for people with arthritis has wavered over the past few decades. But now the advice is clear: it’s important to keep moving. Exercise that puts limited stress on your joints and bones is best. Right now I do a bit of a workout at home (I have an exercise bike, a few lights weights and some stretchie bands) and walk my dog each day. I am still looking for a place to do aqua-aerobics, as this is great low-intensity exercise. Pilates and Yoga can also be beneficial. I can’t stress enough how important exercise is for people with arthritis - if you want to keep functionality and mobility as much as possible, you need to find something that works for you. If it’s running marathons or yoga on a chair - important is that you do it!
6. Work on your attitude, often
Finally, and arguably most difficult in the face of daily pain and physical limitations, is to try to stay positive. While I don’t always manage to put on a brave face, I certainly always make an effort. For example, I consciously create happy memories. This might be social events with friends, dates with my husband or just sitting in the garden with a cup of tea and sunshine on my face. Mindfulness matters! I can draw on these moments when times are tough. Have a think about what makes you happy and is within your capabilities - and do more of it. It’s an ongoing journey, but it is YOUR journey and only you can guide the way.