Do you feel stiff and achy when you wake up in the morning? Do you regularly suffer swelling and pain around your joints? Whilst not definitive, these symptoms could be an early sign that you are developing arthritis.
Arthritis is a condition that causes painful inflammation (swelling) to occur at, one or several, of our joints. This condition can be restrictive on our daily life, reducing mobility and making us fatigue much faster. Even if you do not currently experience the previously mentioned symptoms, arthritis is far from a rare condition, affecting 350 million individuals worldwide.1 It is therefore vital we lead a lifestyle that reduces our risk of arthritis as much as possible. But how do we achieve this? Let’s take a deep dive into the many lifestyle factors that can help prevent arthritis.
Arthritis and Physical Activity
Following a weekly exercise routine that incorporates a variety of exercise types is a great way to maintain your overall health. But which types of exercise should we be doing to reduce our risk of arthritis?
Performing aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging and dancing, for 150 minutes a week will help you burn off fat and increase the strength of your bones, helping you maintain healthy joints.
Including two 30-minute resistance-based exercise circuits in your weekly schedule is a great way to increase your muscular strength, increasing the amount of support the muscles that surround your joints can provide.
Try to perform at least 60 minutes of stretching exercises per week. Flexibility exercises help keep our joints supple and increase our range of motion, reducing the risk of an injury that could potentially cause arthritis.
Arthritis and Nutrition
Combining a balanced diet with regular physical activity will significantly reduce your risk of arthritis. However, did you know there are specific foods that can directly influence our risk of developing arthritis?
Try to eat foods high in omega-3 (e.g. salmon, nuts, seeds and blueberries) twice a week to help prevent inflammation and reduce the risk of arthritis.2
Vitamins, such as A, C, E and K appear to prevent tissue damage and inflammation, reducing our risk of arthritis.
Minimise Saturated Fat/Trans Fats
Both these types of fats can cause inflammation and obesity, factors that increase overall arthritis risk.
Arthritis and Weight/BMI
Maintaining a healthy weight can drastically reduce your risk of suffering from arthritis. Research has found that obesity can raise an individual’s risk of arthritis by as much as 60%.3
Obese individuals are likely to have higher amounts of adipose tissue (fat). Excess adipose tissue not only increases the weight placed on our joints, making them more prone to injury, but it also releases cytokines. Cytokines directly increase the amount of inflammation around our bodies’ joints, making them more prone to arthritis. NHS England reports that the primary causes of obesity are lack of physical activity and an unhealthy diet.4
Make sure to try and follow the exercise guidelines listed above and consume a balanced diet to significantly reduce your risk of arthritis.
Arthritis and Hydration
In addition to oxygen, water is one of the most important things we supply our bodies with. To maintain our overall health, we should be drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water a day to maintain our body’s make-up of 70% water. The importance of water remains the same when looking at the health of our joints. As well as aiding with the transportation of the necessary nutrients required to nourish our joints, water also makes up approximately 30% of our cartilage and is a key component in the production of synovial fluid. When dehydrated, our body's synovial fluid production and cartilage health decrease, making our joints more prone to damage and inflammation caused by the impact and friction created during movement.
Arthritis and Alcohol
Here is some interesting news! Research has found that an alcoholic beverage here and there could actually lower your risk of arthritis.5
Whilst far from the healthiest option on this list, the Arthritis Foundation reports that alcohol consumption is associated with lower levels of interleukin-6, TNF-alpha receptor II, and c-reactive protein, all of which can promote inflammation in our joints when found in higher doses.6
However, it is important to stress that a reduction in arthritis risk was only associated with moderate drinking, meaning you should restrict yourself to 3 to 4 alcoholic drinks per week. Anything over this could have the complete opposite effect on our risk of arthritis.
Overconsumption of alcohol dehydrates us, meaning the body’s synovial fluid production and cartilage health can be negatively affected, increasing our risk of developing arthritis.
Arthritis and Smoking
Whilst quitting smoking is hard, it is vital to do so to minimise your risk of arthritis, as well as a wide range of other chronic health conditions. According to a study in the Annuals of Rheumatic Diseases, those who smoke are 40% more likely to develop arthritis than those who do not.7 Researchers suggest that this increased risk is likely due to the damage smoking can cause to our immune system; since damages to the immune system increases, the system begins to fault.
This fault can lead to increased production of rheumatoid factor, an autoantibody that can attack our healthy cells and the lining of our joints, increasing both inflammation and long-term risk of developing arthritis.
Arthritis and Sleep
In recent years, a growing number of researchers are beginning to agree on a potential relationship between sleep and arthritis risk. Researchers discovered that long-term sleep loss is linked to an increase in the production of a variety of cytokines.8 As we previously explored, increased levels of cytokines can lead to excess inflammation, including around our joints. So how do we ensure we are getting the best possible night’s sleep? According to NHS England, the following tips will help you sleep better at night:9
- Stick to a sleep schedule
- Don’t eat immediately before sleeping
- Take a warm bath or listen to calming music before sleeping
- Ensure your bedroom is a relaxing environment
For those who struggle to sleep after following these tips, visit your local GP, you may be prescribed medication to help you sleep.
Arthritis and Sex Assigned at Birth
Finally, the sex we are assigned at birth could have an influence on our likelihood of developing arthritis. Whilst it appears that people assigned female at birth (AFAB) develop arthritis at a later age than people assigned male at birth (AMAB), research has found that people AFAB are more likely to develop the condition throughout their lifetime.10 Unfortunately for people AFAB, the odds of developing arthritis are increased due to a range of physiological factors, especially after menopause.
After menopause, people AFAB produce less oestrogen, a hormone that helps limit inflammation, and are also more prone to weight gain. As a result of these two factors, people AFAB become more likely to develop arthritis.
Now that we’ve analysed some of the key lifestyle factors that can reduce our risk of developing arthritis, think about your lifestyle and how it aligns with the above points.
Are there ways you could change your lifestyle to reduce your risk of arthritis? If there are, think of how you can implement them into your weekly schedule. Implementing some of the above suggestions will not only reduce your risk of arthritis, but will also likely have a positive influence on many other aspects of your overall health.
- Global RA Network » About Arthritis and RA. https://globalranetwork.org/project/disease-info/
- Kostoglou-Athanassiou, Ifigenia, et al. ‘The Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Rheumatoid Arthritis’. Mediterranean Journal of Rheumatology, vol. 31, no. 2, June 2020, pp. 190–94. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.31138/mjr.31.2.190
- Obesity and Osteoarthritis. Obesity Action, https://www.obesityaction.org/wp-content/uploads/Obesity-and-Osteoarthritis-Fact-Sheet.pdf
- ‘Obesity - Causes’. Nhs.Uk, 23 Oct. 2017, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/causes/
- Lu, Bing, et al. ‘Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Incident Rheumatoid Arthritis in Women: A Prospective Study’. Arthritis & Rheumatology (Hoboken, N.J.), vol. 66, no. 8, Aug. 2014, pp. 1998–2005. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1002/art.38634
- Alcohol. https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/nutrition/foods-to-limit/alcohol
- Sugiyama, D., et al. ‘Impact of Smoking as a Risk Factor for Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies’. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, vol. 69, no. 01, Jan. 2010, pp. 70–81. ard.bmj.com, https://doi.org/10.1136/ard.2008.096487
- Hsiao, Yi-Han, et al. ‘Sleep Disorders and Increased Risk of Autoimmune Diseases in Individuals without Sleep Apnea’. Sleep, vol. 38, no. 4, Apr. 2015, pp. 581–86. PubMed, https://doi.org/10.5665/sleep.4574
- ‘How to Get to Sleep’. Nhs.Uk, 3 Oct. 2018, https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/
- Angum, Fariha, et al. ‘The Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorders in Women: A Narrative Review’. Cureus, vol. 12, no. 5, p. e8094. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.8094