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As we approach the new year, it’s time to look ahead and make plans for a healthy, happy 2020. If you have arthritis, that means setting realistic lifestyle goals so you can stay active and feel better. Here are some big and small New Year’s resolutions to help you make 2020 your best year yet.
Let’s start with an easy goal: sleeping better. Do you get enough sleep each night? Adults should get at least eight hours of sleep, but some people need a little bit more than that. When you wake up, you should feel well-rested; if you don’t, try going to bed earlier for a full week and see if that makes a difference.
To get your best sleep, make sure you stop using any blue light emitting devices a few hours before bedtime. That means putting away your phone, computer, tablet, and turning off the television. Journaling or reading are good alternatives if you need a relaxing activity to help you wind down before going to sleep. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and keep a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
Why does sleep matter? When you’re well-rested, it can help with the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis. Arthritis can be draining mentally, too, and getting good sleep is important to help you stay in a positive frame of mind.
Overhaul Your Diet
It’s important for arthritis patients to avoid inflammatory foods. How do you know what’s inflammatory? Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain foods. Generally speaking, though, healthy fats, whole grains, clean proteins, and fresh fruits and vegetables are your best bet. Processed foods, sugar, white flour, and trans-fats are inflammatory and may cause your arthritis to flare up. Every patient is different, but many feel better on diets like keto, Whole30, or paleo; what all of these diets have in common is a lack of highly processed foods and sugar, so it’s not surprising that they make people feel better physically.
It’s important for New Year’s resolutions to be achievable, so rather than a broad goal like “eating better,” make some smaller goals for yourself to help you measure your progress throughout the year. Here are some ideas:
- Sign up for a cooking class. Bonus points if you can find one specifically for arthritis patients or one that focuses on anti-inflammatory foods.
- Start doing meal prep on the weekends. If you have trouble cooking dinner on busy weeknights, try making big batches of whole grains, vegetables, and clean proteins over the weekend when you have more time. Use them to put together quick meals throughout the week.
- Try one new fruit, vegetable, or healthy whole grain every month. Or give a vegetable you don’t think you like a second chance. You might think you don’t like turnips, but maybe cooking them in a different way will be a game-changer.
- Limit takeout and restaurants to once a week. When you eat out, you don’t know what’s in your food––and it could be something that triggers inflammation. Eating more meals at home will help you save money too.
Make two new recipes every week. The internet has no shortage of food blogs and websites to help you with ideas, but sometimes big, beautifully photographed cookbooks are the perfect inspiration to get you to try something different. Go to your local library and check out some books that make you want to run to the kitchen and whip up something delicious.
Be More Active
This can be difficult for anyone suffering from arthritis pain. How can you be more active when your joints are stiff and painful? Of course, being more active can do wonders for that stiffness and pain, but getting yourself to that point can be difficult. Here, again, it’s important to break down the broader goal of being more active into some smaller, measurable goals so you can more easily see the progress you’re making. Some ideas for New Year’s resolutions that help you increase your activity levels include:
- Switching things up with your workouts. If you’re already active, but you do the same type of workout day after day, it’s time to switch it up and try something new. This can also help you prevent sports injuries by not putting too much strain on any one part of the body.
- Walk instead of driving. Okay, you may want to wait until the weather warms up before tackling this goal. But if you can walk to the post office or coffee shop instead of driving there, doing so is an easy way to work some low-impact activity into your day. If you’re out-of-shape, start slowly and work your way up to longer distances and quicker paces.
- Sign up for yoga or tai chi classes. This is a good goal for anyone who hasn’t worked out in a while. When you sign up for a class, you have some built-in accountability, and these two types of exercise are gentle on the body. If you’re stressed out, they can also introduce a little bit of zen into your day.
- Work out during commercials while watching television. Once you’ve done this for a few weeks, you might even want to keep your workout going through an entire TV show.
- Try swimming. It’s a terrific workout for anyone with arthritis, as it doesn’t put stress on the joints.
Arthritis pain can cause people to give up on their favorite activities and become more sedentary. While you might not be able to participate in high-impact workouts that put stress on your joints, there are plenty of workouts suitable for arthritis patients. It’s important to stay active because it strengthens the muscles that support your joints, which in turn alleviates arthritis pain.
Get the Support You Need
Support comes in many different forms. When you have arthritis, you may feel isolated and alone; you might feel hesitant to ask for help because you don’t want to inconvenience your friends and family. It’s time to let go of that belief and get support when you need it. Most people are happy to help; furthermore, most people want to help, but aren’t sure how to do it or what you need, so being vocal about your needs is a must.
Do you have the support you need? Here are some ways to get it:
- Join a support group for people with arthritis. This could be online or in-person. It helps to know that you’re not alone.
- Make a list of how people can help you when you’re having an arthritis flare. Post it on Facebook, hang it on your fridge, but whatever you do, make it known. Never feel bad about asking for help.
- If you have the budget, hire household help. Having a housecleaner come once a week to clean your house can help you reserve your energy for activities with friends and family––and it’s more affordable than you might think.
- Get your groceries delivered. Having a bad day? Your groceries are a click away. Ask the delivery person if they can bring the grocery bags into your home rather than leaving them by the front door.
- Find a doctor who listens. Your doctor should truly feel like a partner in your arthritis treatment. They should get to know you and your needs and take a holistic view of wellness, treating you as a whole person rather than simply treating your disease. Dr. Jenny Gartshteyn and the team at CORE Medical & Wellness treat patients with the compassion and respect they deserve.
Manage Your Stress
Saying that you’ll stop stressing in the New Year is not a very realistic goal, particularly when you suffer from chronic pain. Stress is part of being human, after all. That said, there are some healthy ways to manage stress that are easy to incorporate into your New Year’s resolutions. Try one or more of the following:
- Download a meditation app. And then use it! Don’t under-estimate the power of meditation. Many studies have proven its ability to help patients with their anxiety. If you’re new to meditation, using guided meditations can help. Don’t think that you have to spend 30 minutes in silent meditation to reap the benefits either––start with three to five minutes and work up from there.
- Start practicing yoga. Yes, yoga again. Those gentle movements aren’t just good for your body, they’re good for your mind too.
- See a therapist. Just about anyone can benefit from therapy, but having an outlet is especially helpful for patients with chronic pain. Therapy isn’t just about venting, though––a good therapist gives you the tools to manage your stress and depression in a more constructive way.
- Take up a hobby. Houseplants, painting, photography––find something you love to do.
- Give yourself the downtime you need. There’s no shame in turning down an invitation to go out for drinks after work and treat yourself to a cup of herbal tea and a long soak in the bathtub instead. Self-care is essential when you suffer from chronic pain.
Stress interferes with your sleep, and a lack of sleep can make arthritis pain worse. Even stress itself can aggravate pain, so it’s important to find healthy ways to manage it.