Years ago, I started having arthritis symptoms. My doctor recommended I see a rheumatologist. As a physical therapist, I had treated people for similar symptoms who had seen a rheumatologist and got on medication but didn’t make lifestyle changes. That experience made me want to work on modifiable behaviors before taking the radical step of medications. As a result of working on lifestyle factors, I have made immense improvements. I am not alone. Many people have had great improvements in their health by developing better habits.
This isn’t about a choice between medication or self-care. Self-care is not optional; it is a necessity if you want long-lasting good result with medication. Self-care doesn’t have to be hard or confusing. This is the four-part program that worked for me:
Eat strategically. There are differences of opinion on healthy eating. But all agree, learn to love your vegetables! Drink water! Stay away from processed foods (excess sugar, fat and salt). The research is incredibly strong for a whole food, plant-based diet. Consider carefully, if you are willing to take expensive medications with serious side effects over simply eating whole foods, perhaps that’s a big part of the problem.
Alleviate the effects of stress.
Even under ‘normal’ circumstances of modern living, we have so much incoming stimulus, our systems are on overload. To alleviate stress (1) Learn how to have a good night’s sleep on a regular basis. (2) Explore your psychological landscape with a counselor. Mental health counseling is way under-utilized as a tool for good health. For instance, it offers some of the best tools for pain management. This is why Therapy Solutions, a physical and occupational therapy clinic, has a counselor on staff. (3) Develop mental discipline. This comes through meditative practices. An example of an effective meditation tool is Richard Moss’ Mandala of Being (www.richardmoss.com). This tool helps the individual to develop a sense of the present moment and recognize when thoughts are pulling them away and causing an increased stress reaction. (4) Play. Have fun. Take time for leisure. Really.
Move! Move 150 minutes per week. Better yet, move 300 minutes per week. Move! Moving helps brain health, cardiovascular health, mental health, pain conditions, everything to do with being in a body is helped by moving. Dance has been shown to be one of the greatest tools for good health. But just walking out your front door and around the block is helpful to your health. And there is everything in between, qi gong, gyms, yoga, bicycling, and more. Sometimes we need help to find what works and that is where physical and occupational therapy comes in.
Bodywork Bodywork refers to all the different methods of manually working on the body, this can be a basic massage but also can be acupuncture, manual lymphatic drainage, myofascial release, craniosacral therapy, visceral manipulation, chiropractic, sound baths and more. Fascial release methods happen to be my favorite way to assist a change in the body because they assist with mind-body connection, and a more lasting change in the tissues compared to other forms of body work.