1. Take Responsibility
Only one person will ever know what works best for your body and that is you. There are plenty of people who will tell you there is nothing you can do, and you just need to live with it. But that’s not true. Beyond prescription drugs and surgery, which are obviously best left to the experts, there are lots of lifestyle and diet changes that might make a difference. Why not try a few and see?
2. Do Research
Bless the internet, it’s full of free information. Except it has a downside: fake news. Yet, I’ve found something really empowering about knowing more and more about the illness that dominates my life. I recommend reading the advice of Versus Arthritis, as a start point, then look beyond for expertise based on real science and credible research.
3. Tell Others
A problem shared is a problem halved, right? Well not quite. But it certainly helps me, especially living with an illness called the ‘silent disease’, because not enough people discuss it. The sooner you tell people – family, friends and colleagues – the sooner they can help and form a valuable support network. They will also be more understanding if you have to back out of social or work events, which does happen.
4. Eat Right
Most forms of arthritis - including osteoarthritis, it has now been shown – are related to inflammation. This is why it is crazy to eat inflammatory foods, such as processed sugar and vegetable oils as they exacerbate the problem. I’ve pretty much stopped eating sugar and only use olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter and ghee. Equally important is to get as many anti-inflammatory foods into your diet as possible.
5. Snack Smart
Everyone snacks, I know I do. But if you know the urge will come, arm yourself with lots of different low sugar, unprocessed treats. Fresh berries, dark chocolate, nuts of every type, goats’ cheese and olives are my favourites. Keep them on hand, for when the munchies strike.
6. Sleep Well
Plentiful sleep is vital for people with chronic illnesses, as it’s when the body goes into repair mode. So, I try to get lots. That means no caffeine after midday, no electronic devices in the bedroom and no phones or laptops close to bedtime as the blue light from our beloved screens disrupts our sleep cycles. My bedroom is also really dark and I make sure my temperature is cool, even if that means wearing a beanie in bed J
It’s important for everyone to keep hydrated, as most of our body is water. But for people with arthritis it’s doubly important, as joints, bones and muscles suffer badly from a lack of fluids. I try to drink as much water and herbal teas as possible during the day – often flavoured with a squeeze of lemon – so I don’t risk too much fluid before bedtime and the resulting interruption of sleep. You know what I mean.
8. Keep Moving
The evidence is now conclusive, according to experts, that for all types of arthritis exercise is beneficial. Every day, come rain or shine, I walk around the block with Toby my dog and do a little stretching on the way. Plus, I try to get my heart racing at least three times a week, using an old exercise bike tucked into the spare room. Whatever works for you is fine, just make it a habit.
9. Avoid Deficiencies
A scary number of people in the UK live with deficiencies in vital nutrients, especially those who live with chronic illness and need them the most. I was once tested and came up short in a few areas, especially for Vitamin D which is a common deficiency. The best way to maintain optimal levels is through a healthy, balanced diet. But for some people a high quality, high dose supplement can play a vital role.
10. Stay Positive
In the face of daily pain and physical limitations, it is hard to stay positive. But it’s so important not to be defeated. Try consciously to create happy memories, such as social events with friends, dates with your partner or just sitting in the garden with a cup of tea. Then draw on these moments when times are tough. It’s a difficult journey, but it is yours to lead.