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How to handle arthritis fatigue

A man in a workshop holds a fishing rod.

Oct. 13, 2020—Fatigue is a common problem for people with arthritis. It's more than just a passing feeling of tiredness. It's a daily, whole-body exhaustion.

Some of it may be due to the strain of living with chronic pain. But according to the Arthritis Foundation (AF), fatigue can also be influenced by our everyday habits. And that's good news. It means there are things you can do to increase your energy and reduce your fatigue.

How physical activity can help

When you're tired and in pain, it may sound illogical to suggest that moving more will help you feel better. But it's true.

According to the AF, exercise is beneficial for fatigue for a number of reasons. It builds strength, improves circulation and increases flexibility, all of which can lessen pain. It also improves mood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you aren't currently very active, a good place to start is with activities that are easy on the joints, such as walking, biking or swimming. Your goal should be to get 150 minutes of exercise every week, although any exercise is better than none. If you haven't exercised in a while, CDC recommends starting slowly and increasing a little at a time.

Other ways to fight fatigue

According to the AF, research has shown that these lifestyle changes also can help reduce fatigue:

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can bring on fatigue. Most people should try to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.

Eat healthy foods. Eat meals that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. Don't skip meals: Start your day with an energy-filled breakfast that includes lean protein and complex carbohydrates.

Make sleep a priority. A good night's rest is an important part of feeling good the next day. If you have trouble sleeping, try to:

  • Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, all of which can interfere with sleep.
  • Go to bed and get up at the same times every day, even on weekends.
  • Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark and conducive to sleep.
  • Have a bedtime ritual——such as taking a warm bath—that lets your body know it's time for sleep.

Seek support. Stress and depression can contribute to feelings of fatigue. You may want to consider seeing a mental health therapist as part of your arthritis treatment plan. Mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi can also help relieve stress and boost your energy.

Alternate rest and activity. Plan to take on tougher tasks during the time of day when you typically have the most energy. In addition to making time for exercise, make time for periods of rest too.

Ask for help. Some days you just may not have the energy to get everything done. That's a good time to ask family members or friends for help.

Talk to your doctor. Let your doctor know if fatigue is having a big impact on your life. If the tips above aren't helping, there may be medications you could try, such as vitamins, antidepressants or sleeping aids.

For more tips on living with arthritis, visit our Arthritis health topic center.

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