Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder of the bones, joints, and connective tissue that affects about 1.5 millions Americans each year. It occurs when the immune system, which normally seeks to protect the body by attacking foreign and harmful substances, mistakenly attacks the body, in this case, the tissues surrounding the joints. It is characterized by painful inflammation that can cause damage to a variety of body systems that include the skin, eyes, lungs and circulatory system.
Because the condition is chronic and progressive, maintaining your quality of life with rheumatoid arthritis may become more challenging with time. To accomplish this, it will take a combination of mental toughness and physical strength, proper nutrition, and a solid support system.
Strong Mind, Strong Body
Tai chi practices have been found to reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and may be beneficial when used in combination with conventional treatments for RA. Tai chi features slow and fluid movements with gentle stretching and deep breathing. Practicing tai chi has been found to increase strength, as well as, reducing stress and pain.
It was once thought that aerobic activity was contraindicated in patients with RA. However, experts now believe that RA patients who engage in cardio with minimum to moderate impact, such as swimming and elliptical machines have healthier joints later in life. Since RA patients already experience an increased risk for heart disease, the cardiac benefit from aerobic exercise is especially helpful.
Nutrition Impacts Quality of Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis
The role of diet can’t be overlooked, as it plays a big part in maintaining and improving the quality of life in patients with RA. There are several nutritional benefits that these foods provide:
- Oily Fish: salmon, tuna, and mackerel are all great examples of oily fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids which are known to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Berries: cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all fantastic antioxidants.
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, flax seeds, and chia are all packed with protein and fiber. Nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, have been proven as having strong anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial for RA sufferers.
- Red Wine: The anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of red wine are well known. It also contains a natural compound known as resveratrol which, in moderation, is helpful with RA symptoms.
- Turmeric: Research published recently showed that curcumin possesses potent anti-arthritic properties.
In addition, there are many foods, in which the RA sufferer may want to avoid to better control symptoms. The foods that are thought to be inflammatory include:
- Nightshades (pepper; cayenne, paprika pimento, chili, bell, banana, tomatoes)
- Refined sugar
Mental Health and Support Needs
Chronic pain and inflammation can wear on the psyche after a time. For as many as 40% of RA patients living with the disease means having bouts of depression, feeling isolated and hopeless. Good mental health, including positive attitude, is one of the most important factors in maintaining the quality of life. RA sufferers are encouraged to participate in support groups and seek help when life becomes too much, emotionally.
While RA is a condition that affects your day-to-day, many patients do enjoy a good quality of life. Research into autoimmune diseases continues to advance treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness and extra support may be needed when depression strikes. Overall, the outlook is positive that diet and exercise can help control symptoms. With appropriate medical attention and adequate support, living with RA and achieving a good quality of life is a goal that is well within your reach.