Lifestyle changes played an important role in bolstering my mood, keeping my energy high, and helping me stay positive after a life-altering diagnosis.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your pain?” the doctor asked.
“9 and a half,” I answered without hesitation.
This was the day I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. And while the pain was immense, I felt nothing but relief.
For months, I had dealt with pain so bad that I couldn’t walk down stairs or open a bottle unassisted, and now, I had answers.
“When you leave here today and inevitably Google your condition, please ignore anything you read about treating it through diet alone. It’s incredibly important that you take your medication,” the doctor warned.
I nodded and dutifully took my prescription, a list of medications that I would later learn had a list of side effects the length of my forearm. But I was grateful for treatment.
Before the pain had taken over my body and I had watched my joints swell one by one — starting with my wrists, later moving to my fingers, knees, and feet — I had been excited to start a new exercise routine.
It seemed like everyone I knew had started weight training. I’d spent years running on the treadmill to the point of exhaustion trying to lose weight, and now I’d found an exercise where the focus wasn’t on losing weight but on getting strong.
I’d wanted to improve my diet, too. I’d been relying too heavily on quick meals and takeout and was starting to feel sluggish. I armed myself with healthy cookbooks and was ready to make a fresh start.
I’d just joined a gym when I started noticing an uncomfortable twinge in my wrists. Before long, I couldn’t sit cross-legged or crouch on my thighs. Those plans for getting fit and healthy were slowly sidelined — how could I squat or bench when I struggled to get myself out of bed?
Once I had a diagnosis, I was determined that it wasn’t going to define me. I was determined to rise above it — and to the surprise of many, I was determined to hit the gym and overhaul my lifestyle.
First things first, I got myself to the gym. I started with swimming, the lowest impact exercise and the kindest on my joints, and then I graduated to other low-impact activities, like indoor cycling.
Then, it was time to try weights. Far from being something I shouldn’t try due to my diagnosis, my doctor explained that strength training is actually a great activity for people with arthritis, as it strengthens the muscles around the joints, lessening the impact on them.
I went in the evenings when my pain and swelling was less severe, and started with light weights, slowly building the load week by week.
Soon, I was lifting weights 5 times a week. I enjoyed it so much that going to the gym was something I looked forward to, rather than dreaded. My body felt different after each workout: looser, more limber.
I walked out of each session feeling my confidence and mood soar.
To support my new exercise program, I started fueling my body with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, and cut out a lot of the processed foods I had been eating.
I added in oily fish, which is said to reduce inflammation in people with RA. I also loaded up on protein to complement my new exercise regimen, and help to build those joint-supporting muscles over time.
I allowed some room for treats, but focused on cooking the majority of my meals from scratch and filling them with as much goodness as possible.
Just as my doctor had advised, I continued taking my medication, too.
A few months passed. Where once fatigue had left me feeling foggy, sluggish, and blue, I began to feel revitalized.
I started and ended each day full of energy and focus. I was sleeping better and feeling more positive.
I’d spent some time berating my body for its pain and swollen joints, but slowly, I was starting to feel good about it. I could lift heavy weights. I could run and squat and do circuits.
A few months earlier I struggled to twist the cap off a bottle — now I was perfecting deadlifts.
My diet was having a pronounced effect, too. Aside from glossy hair, glowing skin, and strong nails, I genuinely felt more limber.
I’d spent months struggling to kneel or crouch or walk quicker than at a snail’s pace, but now I felt like I could really move.
About 14 months after my diagnosis I walked into my doctor’s office with no pain or stiffness.
“How would you rate your pain score on a scale of 1 to 10?” he asked me. “Zero,” I answered.
My blood results backed me up. My inflammation levels had returned to normal. The swelling, pain, and stiffness were all gone.
I was officially in remission.
I’ll never be able to say for certain exactly how much of a role diet and exercise played in helping me to manage my rheumatoid arthritis.
I was fortunate to respond exceptionally well to my treatment in a way that not everyone does.
What I do know is that diet and exercise kept me upbeat in the face of a challenging diagnosis. They played an incredibly important part in bolstering my mood, keeping my energy high, and helping me stay positive after a life-altering diagnosis.
Article originally appeared on November 2, 2020 on Bezzy’s sister site, Healthline. Last medically reviewed on November 2, 2020.
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