Six Lifestyle Tips to Reduce Pain
In recent years preventative medicine as well as wholistic or functional medicine have been growing in popularity. As they have been growing in popularity there has been a notable influx in the amount of information related to lifestyle and its effect on health. When you hear lifestyle, you may ask what does that actually mean. In general, it is referring to the things you do in a typical day or week that affect your body. Those being: movement (specifically exercise), intake (the stuff you eat and drink), and rest or in particular sleep. We will dig into how each of these have an impact on your health, particularly pain, and at the end there are six steps you can take to begin to make changes.
Let’s start with how much you are moving. It has been widely accepted now that exercise has a major impact on your health. We know that it can help in management of chronic conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular issues. Not only does exercise assist in the management of chronic conditions but it can also change your perception of pain. While an older article, this article speaks to this idea. The CDC is also a great resource on positive benefits on physical activity. In their newest guidelines on physical activity, it is in fact noted that physical activity can decrease pain without a progression of disease in osteoarthritis of the knee and hip. There is a plethora of information contained in the CDC’s guidelines and if you would like to read more in depth about it I recommend starting here. However, if you want to do your own more in depth reading you can check out the entire PDF of the CDC’s guidelines on activity, here. Your body is designed for movement – your joints are actually lubricated with movement. Check out this article from Harvard Health that discusses this and more positive benefits to exercise.
Let’s move on to sleep. You might ask why does my sleep matter in relation to my health or more specifically how could sleep affect my perception of pain. Just a few months ago, the New York Times wrote an article about a recent study that researchers from the University of California Berkeley conducted specifically relating to this topic. What they found may surprise you, a poor night of not sleeping can increase your perception of pain by as much as 15-30% as compared to a good night of sleep. Good sleep matters, below I’ll give some easy tips on how to try and improve your sleep. Unfortunately, this article is not open access but here is another abstract that re-iterates this point, that your how well you sleep does in fact impact your pain.
Ok, finally, the fuel you provide your body, a.k.a. your food intake. With this one you might be a little more skeptical and that’s ok. I am not here to tell you that you need to completely change your eating habits. What I am here to do is to show you that even making small changes could really impact your symptoms. One of the easiest and greatest steps to take is to get rid of processed foods and more specifically simple sugars. Here is why, these foods have a huge impact on the amount of inflammation happening in your body which affects your experience of pain. If you don’t want to take my word for it check out these articles from the Cleveland Clinic, another from the Cleveland clinic, this abstract, and this one from the Arthritis foundation. Not only can food impact pain, but hydration also can. Staying well hydrated can significantly help your experience of pain, as noted in this article.
As you consider this information use these six tips to begin to make changes to your lifestyle that may reduce your pain allowing you to live a more full life:
1. Seriously go take a look at the CDC’s guidelines. There is actually some really good information for you regardless of your age. They have guidelines from ages 3 through older adulthood.
2. Try and find a way to increase your activity level with adding in some exercise if you aren’t currently doing so. Some suggestions are:
2.1. Take a 30 minute walk every day.
2.2. Join a gym that offers incentives to help keep you motivated, such as free services if you complete a challenge.
Join a class based gym (a personal favorite). No thinking involved, all you have to do is get off the couch
3. Make a nighttime routine that includes:
3.1. Not eating anything for at least one hour before you go to sleep
3.2. No screen time for at least one hour before you go to sleep
3.3. Making a to-do list/externally processing what you have to do the next day
For food and fluid intake:
4. Don’t buy or reduce how much food you are buying with added sugars (a large number of labels now tell you if there is added sugar)
5. Try to buy only things where you can understand the ingredient list. Don’t buy items that have an ingredient list the length of the box
6. Buy a water bottle that you keep with you, that’s at least a 32 oz water bottle and make it a goal of drinking at least 2 full bottles worth of water
As always, if you are unsure about any of these ask your PT for some help and they will be able to guide you in the right direction. As PTs our first goal is to help you recover, but we also want to help you stay healthy! Change is always hard but it starts somewhere, so try this week to make one small change and you will already be on the path towards a healthier you!
Written by: Dr. Matt DeLange, PT, DPT