Is rheumatoid arthritis sapping your energy? These fatigue-busters can help.
Imagine going to work, doing errands and still having enough energy for something you actually want to do! If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), that might sound like the impossible dream. In fact, 98% of people with RA reporting energy-zapping fatigue, which can leave you with barely enough pep to lift your fork or brush your teeth.
The body-wide inflammation, lack of sleep, joint pain, stress and depression all associated with rheumatoid arthritis can steal your get-up-and go. And so can overdoing physical activity—or, conversely, not getting enough movement. Plus, fatigue can be a side effect of some medications.
The good news: You can get your oomph back by experimenting with a few simple energy-boosters. Talk with your healthcare provider about the source of your fatigue—and then try these tips to start feeling like yourself in no time.
Maximize your morning meal. Breakfast really is your best defense when it comes to fueling your brain and body and sustaining energy levels. Try to include protein, such as yogurt or an egg, and complex carbohydrates, like whole-grain bread or oatmeal, which will keep energy levels stable. For an added boost, toss walnuts into yogurt, look for omega-3-fortified eggs and add blueberries to oatmeal—these foods have been shown to flight inflammation.
Sit up straight. Did you know that slouching can sap your energy? The reason: Your muscles have to work harder to hold up your body, resulting in fatigue. Practicing good posture can help strengthen your muscles to support your joints and ease RA pain.
And sitting upright can also help you feel more confident. In a study at Ohio State University in Columbus, researchers discovered that when participants listed the good things about themselves while either slouching or sitting upright, the straight sitters had more confidence in the truthfulness of their self-assessment.
Practice self-praise. It sounds pretty simple, but saying a few positive words to yourself can boost your mood, reduce stress levels and keep energy high, according researchers at the University of San Francisco. So try to avoid saying things like “I can’t do anything” or “No one understands me” and start singing your own praises: “I’m proud of my accomplishments” and “I’m lucky to have friends and family who support me.”
Exercise to stay energized. Exercise is a surefire fatigue-buster. It helps restore your energy by generating feel-good endorphins, increasing your flexibility and blood circulation and reducing pain. Madelaine Feldman, MD, Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations board member and New Orleans-based rheumatologist, recommends strength training with light weights or resistance bands to increase your metabolism and energy. Walking, cycling, swimming and doing yoga and tai chi are beneficial as well. Ask your healthcare provider which exercises are appropriate for you.
Mind your meds. Talk with your healthcare provider about your medication. Could it be causing your fatigue? To help minimize side effects, find out if any adjustments can be made to your treatment regimen.
Take a break. Pacing yourself can help keep pain at bay and energy levels high. Cut an activity short while you still feel fine—say, after 20 minutes or so of gardening. Take a short break, and if you feel okay, resume the activity later.
Get tested for anemia. Anemia, a condition in which the body has too few of the red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body, affects up to two-thirds of people with RA and is most common in those with severe joint disease. If left untreated, anemia can result in fatigue and weakness.
Take a power nap. The pain of RA can make both falling asleep and staying asleep a challenge. Next time you feel fatigued, try squeezing in a 20- to 30-minute mid-day nap. Although this won’t compensate for poor-quality nighttime sleep, it can help you rejuvenate for the day ahead.