Valerie Smith, APRN
35 Ways to Manage a Rheumatic Disease During the Winter
Do you find it difficult to manage your rheumatic disease in the winter? You are not the only one! This time of year brings unique struggles and hardships for many of our patients.
From the frigid temperatures to the limited sunlight, the complexities of winter tend to interrupt daily routines, and those disruptions lead to flare-ups and an increase in symptoms.
Autoimmune disorders come with chronic inflammation. That inflammatory process can wreak havoc on the physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing of an individual. Plus, it’s no easy task to manage the other medical conditions that come along as a result of having an autoimmune disease.
When you insert the elements of winter into that mix, many patients find it downright difficult to maintain their health during this cold, dark season of the year.
What Can You Do To Improve Your Health This Winter?
We’ve compiled a list of 35 lifestyle choices that you can incorporate into your everyday life to minimize flare-ups, decrease symptoms, reduce inflammation, and slow down disease progression.
But keep in mind … this list is not meant to overwhelm, overburden, or overload you. It is not meant to act as some kind of ultimate to-do list where you must check off every item.
Rather, it is meant to inspire, motivate, and encourage you to utilize new ways to manage your rheumatic disease. It’s a lengthy list not because managing a rheumatic disease means you must do every single recommendation, but instead, it is a long list to give you plenty of options and ideas.
Do not feel like you need to tackle all 35 suggestions. Instead, choose 10, 5, 3, or just 1 item to focus on. Every effort is worthwhile, no matter how big or small.
35 Tips for Better Physical, Emotional, and Mental Health
#1 Eat Greens - Green vegetables, especially leafy green vegetables, are packed with nutrients, loaded with vitamins, and full of antioxidants. Blend greens into smoothies or cook them into pasta dishes. Make lettuce wraps, put together a salad, or even eat those green veggies raw.
#2 Start an Anti-Inflammatory Diet - If you want to incorporate additional healthy food choices (more than just greens) into your diet, consider following an anti-inflammatory diet that includes fruits, lean proteins, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
#3 Avoid Pro-Inflammatory Foods - Perhaps avoiding certain foods sounds easier than starting an anti-inflammatory diet? If so, try to steer clear of pro-inflammatory foods and eliminate them from your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
#4 Limit Sugar - Sugar is known to increase inflammation. Cut back on treats and sweets.
#5 Drink Water - Stay hydrated by drinking water, not sodas, fruit juices, sweet teas, sports drinks, or energy drinks.
#6 Take Vitamin Supplements - Under the direction of a healthcare professional, build into your treatment plan different vitamin supplements such as vitamin D, A, K, C, E, or any of the B vitamins. (Beware - taking too much of certain vitamins can be harmful.)
#7 Add in Herbs - Herbs such as rosemary, curcumin, turmeric, ginger, garlic, ginseng, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and fenugreek have been known to reduce inflammation.
#8 Seek Out Sunshine - When the weather allows, get outside and soak up some sunshine.
#9 Get Up and Move - When stuck indoors during a snowstorm, that cozy recliner might look appealing. Make the choice to not be sedentary.
#10 Exercise Regularly - An exercise routine does not have to be extravagant to be effective.
#11 Stabilize Your Joints - By using splits and braces, you can protect your joints by decreasing the amount of stress you put on them. Implementing arthritis-friendly exercises into your day is another way to safeguard your joints.
#12 Lose Weight - Weight management goes hand-in-hand with rheumatic disease management.
#13 Maintain Your Oral Health - Do not neglect your oral health. Believe it or not, maintaining good oral health is part of managing a rheumatic disease.
#14 See the Dentist - Make sure not to skip those dental cleanings as part of your oral health regime.
#15 Get More Sleep - Research has proven countless reasons why sleep is important. Your body needs rest to battle the effects of a rheumatic disease.
#16 Improve Sleep Habits - Getting adequate sleep is not only about increasing the amount of sleep you get within a 24-hour period. Sleeping an hour or two here or there will not yield the same benefits as a solid night’s rest.
#17 Embrace Relaxation Techniques - Try out yoga or tai chi as a way to release stress in your body. If those techniques are not a right fit for you, see if meditation or deep breathing exercises in the comfort of your own home can help relax your body and relieve tension.
#18 Practice Mindfulness - Be present, be aware, and be mindful of what is eating up your physical, emotional, or mental energy each day.
#19 Reduce Stress - Stress is an extremely individualized emotion, and therefore, reducing stress comes in all shapes and forms. Find ways to de-stress that personally work for you.
Listen to music. Take a walk. Write a journal entry.
#20 Focus on Gratitude - Make the intentional choice to be grateful. Studies have shown that expressing gratitude can have a positive impact on your mind and body.
#21 Rekindle an Old Hobby - Hobbies enrich our lives and bring us joy. Since happiness and health are interlinked, starting up a previous hobby might be more helpful than you would think.
#22 Develop New Skills - Personal development gives us purpose, confidence, and once again, joy. Learning a new skill is a roundabout way of improving your overall health.
#23 Join a Club or Class - Make new friends. Find a community of like-minded people. It could be as simple as hosting a game night in your home once a month.
#24 Book a Massage - Massage therapy improves circulation, which in turn, improves immune function. Some patients also find that massage therapy is a useful resource to manage their pain.
#25 Try Out Acupuncture - Acupuncture is known to stimulate the central nervous system, which promotes healing.
#26 Decrease Alcohol Consumption - Research suggests that alcohol can contribute to systemic inflammation, and of course, lead to a myriad of other health consequences.
#26 Quit Smoking - If you use tobacco products, every part of your overall wellness will benefit from quitting.
#28 Reduce Caffeine Intake - Some patients experience significant health improvements when they reduce or eliminate caffeine from their daily diet.
#29 Seek Out Therapy - Physical therapy and occupational therapy are excellent resources for rheumatic disease patients.
#30 Check Your Mental Health - Your mental health is connected to your physical health, which means poor mental health can lead to poor physical health.
#31 - Visit with a Mental Health Therapist - Physical and occupational are not the only types of therapy that are helpful when trying to manage a rheumatic disease.
#32 Communicate with Others - Whether it’s a family member, neighbor, friend, a gym buddy, or someone from your church congregation (or even an individual from that class you joined), find a safe person or a caregiver that you can open up to and communicate your needs.
#33 - Ask for Help - If you need help, please seek help. We know that’s easier said than done, but we encourage you to ask for help if you feel any aspect of your health is declining.
#34 - Forgive Yourself - Life doesn’t always go as planned, especially when living with a rheumatic disease. Be kind to yourself, and be willing to slow down when your body is telling you it needs a break.
#35 - Set Up a Winter Check-In - Last but not least, do not forget to be in continuous contact with your rheumatologist.
Bonus Tip - #36 - Come Visit Us at Paducah Rheumatology
Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we want you to feel your best come rain or shine (or snow, sleet, hail, heat, or humidity).
Let’s work together to manage your rheumatic disease.
Part of maintaining your health during the winter includes the need to formulate a treatment plan, monitor medications, and track disease progression.
And our team at Paducah Rheumatology can do all of the above and more!
Give us a call at 270-408-6100 to set up an appointment, or send in a physician’s referral if you will be a new patient.
We look forward to working with you to improve your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.