Stay comfortable and in control with our double-duty strategies for coping with rheumatoid arthritis and menopause.
There’s no denying that rheumatoid arthritis and menopause can be challenging. For some women, menopause seems to amplify the aches and pains of RA, intensifying stiffness, fatigue and depression. Luckily, that’s not something you have to live with. Turns out that a few simple steps work double duty to help you take charge of both RA and menopause.
1. Sweat your symptoms away. “Exercise is key for healthy menopausal women and women with rheumatoid arthritis,” explains Susan Goodman, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. This is especially true for exercise that incorporates low-impact cardio (to get your heart pumping), strength training (to increase muscle strength) and flexibility training (to reduce stiffness and decrease pain).
Your rheumatologist can help you develop a fitness plan that’s right for you, but here’s a good start: Go for a brief power walk, pick up 1- or 2-pound weights or sign up for an RA-friendly yoga class. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day, so try to commit to some form of movement—even if you break it up into 10-minute intervals, three times a day.
RA benefit: Developing a regular fitness routine has been shown to fight fatigue, pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis, and it can do wonders for raising your energy levels. Plus, aerobic exercise can help protect against the heightened heart disease risk that comes with RA.
Menopause benefit: The loss of estrogen during menopause increases a woman’s risk for osteoporosis, but exercise can help keep your bones strong. “Working out will build up your muscles, which is a huge benefit for your bones,” explains Dr. Goodman. Exercise can also help thwart that unwanted weight gain that often comes with menopause and aging.
2. Eat this to lift your spirits. Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and tuna, may boost your mood and fight RA and menopause symptoms. Mix things up with shrimp, summer flounder and farmed catfish, which also contain omega-3s but are lower in mercury. Hate that fishy taste? Talk to your doctor about taking a fish-oil supplement.
RA benefit: Studies have shown that omega-3s may help reduce joint pain—but not joint damage—in people with RA.
What’s more, a growing body of research, including a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, shows that omega-3s may help ease depression symptoms. According to the Arthritis Foundation, RA doubles your depression risk—just another reason to fill up on fish.
Menopause benefit: Omega-3 fatty acids’ health advantages extend to menopause, too. Specifically, researchers with Université Laval’s Faculty of Medicine recently found that omega-3 supplements were effective in treating menopause-induced distress and mild depressive symptoms. An added bonus? The fatty acids have also been shown to ease hot flashes.
3. Wind down with a warm bath. Who said a little R&R can’t improve your health? Indulging in a warm bath may do more than just calm your nerves—it may also ease RA and menopause symptoms.
RA benefit: Ahhh—a hot soak can reduce stiffness and temporarily provide joint-pain relief. If you don’t have time for a dip, the Arthritis Foundation suggests applying heat for 10 to 15 minutes, using an electric blanket or warming your clothes in the dryer before getting dressed.
Menopause benefit: Insomnia is one of the most dreaded symptoms of menopause, but you can promote better sleep with a pre-bedtime wind-down that incorporates a little tub time. So go ahead . . . turn off that phone and soak (just keep in mind that the heat could trigger a hot flash).
4. Revamp your wardrobe. Looking for an excuse to go on a shopping spree? Consider this: What you wear affects your RA and menopause symptoms.
RA benefit: Zippers and buttons can be a nightmare when your joints ache, so stock up on pants with elastic waistbands or drawstrings. And try this trick: Keep your blouses buttoned on the hangers, so they can easily be slipped over your head.
Menopause benefit: Three words—layers, layers, layers! When a hot flash strikes, you should be ready to strip down. Stock up on loose cotton and linen items, and banish wool pieces, turtlenecks and tight clothing from your closet once and for all—they’re hot-flash culprits.
By adding these simple steps to your daily routine, you can keep both menopause and RA symptoms at bay.