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women discuss exercise and nutrition and rheumatoid arthritis

How Exercise and Eating Right Can Help Those Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis

June 15, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


Patients and providers are constantly searching for long-term solutions to improve the quality of life for patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

One common approach to controlling rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is through medication, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

While DMARDs remain important in treatment plans, patients with rheumatoid arthritis may also benefit from working with their care team to implement integrative treatments – which includes lifestyle changes, such as exercise, diet, and reducing stress. Recently, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) released its first-ever guideline.

Their number one recommendation? Get regular exercise! Staying active can help keep you mobile with less pain, more energy and better mental health. According to the guidelines, providers and patients may want to consider implementing aerobic exercise, aquatic exercise, resistance exercises like weight training, and mind-body exercises, including Pilates, yoga, and tai chi. It’s best to begin exercise slowly and go at your own pace – so check with your provider to determine the physical activities that are right for you.

The recommendations also showed conditional support for eating a Mediterranean diet over no formally defined diet. A Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, along with moderate amounts of low-fat dairy and fish. The diet also limits added sugars, highly processed foods, and saturated fats.

While massage therapy, splinting, physical therapy, and occupational therapy may offer some health benefits to RA patients, the ACR panel conditionally recommended against use of dietary supplements, chiropractic therapy, and electrotherapy.

Above all, the guidelines highlight that working with an interprofessional team of health care providers – which may include physical occupational therapists, pharmacists, or other health care professionals – is key to unlocking the benefits of integrative medicine.

These guidelines can help you or a loved one living with rheumatoid arthritis strengthen your joints, reduce overall pain, and take part in the activities that you enjoy.

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