Co-Authored by Gillian Thomas of Gillian Thomas Fitness
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the biggest growing cause of disability in the world. Without an outright cure, patients are being encouraged to take control of their own health. In our previous post, we recommended five ways to take control of your osteoarthritis to help manage pain, inflammation, and continual degradation of the affected joints.
- Exercise (previous blog post available)
- Diet and Nutrition
- Rest, Recovery, and Sleep
- Bracing and Supports
- Viscosupplementation – Other Injection Therapies
This post is going to focus on some making some key dietary and nutritional changes that have the potential to improve symptoms or reduce disease progression. A primary risk factor of OA is being overweight, or obese, and the best way to get ahead of your OA is try and shed those extra pounds. Whether it’s by food alone, or with exercise, weight loss can have a major impact on prolonging the health of your joints.
Diet, Nutrition, and Exercise
The media often reports on the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits, nuts, legumes and olive oil or anti-inflammatory diets, which focus on fresh foods. While there is no specific Osteoarthritis Diet, there are healthy eating choices that seem to help. For many people choosing fresh foods and lots of vegetables while avoiding processed and pre-prepared foods may be a great start.
Healthy Fats? Yes those do exist and they are important. When focusing on osteoarthritis, studies have demonstrated that there are benefits from increasing omega 3 fatty acids in your diet. These healthy fats may affect cartilage composition and slow down the degenerative process. So what is an omega 3 fatty acid, and where can I find them? An omega 3 fatty acid can lower triglyceride levels, decreasing risk of heart disease, can lower inflammation, and has demonstrated some benefit in decreasing stiffness and joint pain. Omega 3s can be found mostly in fish such as wild salmon, herring, tuna, beans, flaxseed, peanut butter, and other sources as well.
Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin. It is an important component in bone metabolism but has impact in individuals with OA. Very few foods have high nutritional amounts of vitamin D and in sunshine poor environments, it is usually recommended to be supplementing to some degree. When looking at the benefits of Vitamin D in Osteoarthritis, studies have shown it may slow down the progression of OA. Talk to your sport medicine doctor about the appropriate levels of vitamin D you should be taking.
A number of dietary factors have been associated with OA symptoms or progression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the odds of getting arthritis are one in three for people with excessive weight. Weight is such a major factor in osteoarthritis: obesity contributes to a state of chronic inflammation in the body plus each additional pound places three to four lbs of additional pressure on weight bearing joints. Excessive weight also leaves you with higher risks of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and depression. Weight loss of greater than 10% of total body weight can result in significant changes in pain and function of weight bearing joints. Weight reduction paired with exercise has an even greater capacity to improve pain and function. Check out 4 Activities for Hip and Knee Osteoarthritis to get you started.
Now that you know what you can do to prevent osteoarthritis or care for yourself if you’ve been diagnosed, you may be wondering how to start. I work with people every day to help them implement the behavioural changes needed to become their healthiest. Below I am sharing my top three tips for making nutrition and exercise improvements that will last long term. – Gillian Thomas
#1 CHANGE ONLY ONE THING AT A TIME
When we feel a surge of motivation, it’s natural to want to make several changes at once. I’m going to urge you not to do that. It sounds counterintuitive but success is more likely for those who take things one step at a time.
The effort required to make even one change is substantial. When we attempt to change more than one behaviour at a time, we become so exhausted that the comfort of falling back into our former habits is irresistible.
Let’s imagine that you have decided to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet. I recommend focusing on this until it has become so engrained in your daily routine that it requires almost no effort. Cognitive psychologists refer to this as “automaticity” and, depending on the complexity of the goal, could take anywhere from a few weeks to several months to reach.
The best sign that you’re ready to start working on your next change is that you have reached automaticity with the last one. Although this approach will take time, you reduce the risk of burnout that comes with making a lifestyle overhaul.
#2 GET SPECIFIC WITH YOUR GOALS
Vague goals are easy to make but difficult to stick to. Saying “I’m going to start exercising,” or “I’m going to take Vitamin D” are examples of goals that would benefit from a little more specificity. I like to use a strategy called “implementation intentions”.
Implementation intentions mean setting a plan for when, where and how you will modify your behaviours. For instance, you might say, “On Mondays at 7:00am (when) at my local gym (where) I am going to strength train with a personal trainer (how).” Or, “Every morning when I’m eating breakfast (when) at my kitchen table (where) I am going to take my Vitamin D (how).”
Many of my clients find they are much more successful when using implementation intentions because it provides them with a plan. Want to take it one step further? Identify any potential barriers to your new routines and come up with a plan for how you will overcome them. This is called if-then planning. For instance, if I am travelling and can’t see my personal trainer then I will ask them to provide me with a workout that I can do in my hotel room.”
Both of these strategies help us focus on the daily behaviours required of us to reach our goals. By directing our efforts to the process, we make ourselves much more likely to get to our desired outcome and create a lifelong habit.
#3 FIND SUPPORT
One of the biggest mistakes one can make when trying to improve their health and nutrition is doing it alone. Finding one person or a group of people to support you may be the best thing you can do for yourself. This support could come from anyone who shares your values and understands your goals: a family member, a friend you trust, another person who shares your diagnosis, a personal trainer, nutrition coach or health coach.
Support is so crucial because when we are trying to create a new normal for ourselves, we’re bound to face struggles. Having a support system in place provides:
- Accountability: The fact is that no one is motivated all the time. Holding yourself accountable will help keep you on track even when you’re not feeling motivated because you will need to report what you have done (or not done) to someone else. Accountability results in consistency and consistency results in success.
- Feedback: Our support system is someone to share our successes and frustrations with. They may offer us a different perspective, helps us solve problems or provide encouragement. This makes us more resilient.
- Education and Experience: In the case of a professional health coach you will also benefit from specific recommendations for diet and exercise and their experience coaching other individuals in your position.
About the Author
LiveActive Sport Medicine is extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Gillian Thomas. To find out more about Gillian Thomas Fitness make sure to check out her website below or contact her directly. If you or someone you know is looking for a qualified personal trainer and/or nutrition coach, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.