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Arthritis and You 2020

Living with arthritis: Keeping active, healthy and strong

Credit: Arthritis Action

David Vaux

Osteopath and Arthritis Action’s Therapies Manager and Exercise Lead

Martin Lau

Registered Dietitian and Arthritis Action’s Services Development Manager

Dr Wendy Holden

Consultant Rheumatologist and Arthritis Action’s Medical Advisor

The coronavirus lockdown has highlighted, more than ever, the need for people living with arthritis to keep active and healthy.

A self-management approach

The benefits of keeping your body healthy are almost too many to list, especially during a pandemic as we now find ourselves. Regular exercise, for example, is essential as it helps strengthen the muscles that protect and support the joints. Keeping active has even been proven to help reduce the pain we can feel in our joints as well as improve their function.

To promote the importance of keeping active and healthy, Arthritis Action recently launched a six-week online exercise programme, run by our registered Dietitian and Strength & Conditioning Coach, Martin Lau. These classes feature simple, chair-based exercises that anyone could try at home. They will help to regain and build strength for people who usually find it difficult to participate in exercise classes.

The benefits of exercise

Angela Matthews, who lives with arthritis and took part in the exercise programme, says the chair-based exercises helped to build up her joint strength and get active again. “I would never join an exercise class normally because if you are disabled in any way, you do not have the confidence. You feel everyone can see you, particularly if the instructor draws attention to you. These classes were superb for this. You did not really feel on show at all, except for the instructor making sure I was doing the exercises right.

Keeping active and exercising aren’t the only things we can be doing to manage our painful arthritis symptoms. By keeping to a healthy diet, we can hugely lessen the load felt by our joints.

“I had been suffering badly during lockdown, as I wasn’t able to visit my osteopath who I usually visit every six weeks. Nor have I been going to the hospital each week for hydropool sessions with a physiotherapist. I was delighted to be included in this course and will definitely be keeping up my exercises!”

Online, there are constant technological innovations that support and encourage those of us with pain or mobility challenges to get stronger and more active. Such online classes, that promote strength and healthy activity are very much part of our plan for improving the lives of people living with arthritis.

Healthy weight, happy joints

Keeping active and exercising aren’t the only things we can be doing to manage our painful arthritis symptoms. By keeping to a healthy diet, we can hugely lessen the load felt by our joints.

For every extra pound over a healthy weight, it is thought that an extra four pounds goes straight through the weight-bearing joints, especially the knees, in every step you walk. This means joints are carrying an extra four stone in weight, if someone is just one stone overweight – this can clearly make joint pain worse.

The good news is, losing even a small amount of weight can make a huge difference in improving pain and mobility. The aim should primarily be to reach a normal body weight and to eat a well-balanced, varied diet. Fruits and vegetables contain high levels of vitamins and anti-oxidants, which are essential for staying in good health, not to mention the high fibre content which is helpful for our gut bacteria.

Keeping positive

The pain of arthritis can make people feel low or depressed, especially if it becomes difficult to perform everyday activities or keep up with family and friends.

That said, arthritis pain often comes and goes, sometimes even disappearing completely for a period of time. Staying positive can really help you get through the bad days. Always remember that the pain will settle. Simple pain-management techniques including relaxation, distraction and counting blessings can help keep your mind off any painful symptoms, and help you live a better, happier life with your arthritis.

There is no single life hack for managing arthritis that will work for everyone. However, finding ways to self-manage your arthritis through exercise, diet and mental wellbeing can make a big difference to how you feel. Try experimenting with the different options and see what works best for you.


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