Everyone is advised to maintain a healthy diet and exercise. This advice can be especially important to people who have rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue.
Stay active. People dealing with painful joints and fatigue may find it difficult to stay active; however, moderate activity like walking can restore energy levels and fights fatigue. Research shows that people with RA often have significantly less fatigue after engaging in physical activity.2
Start an exercise program. Research suggests that a regular exercise regimen can improve symptoms of RA, decrease pain levels, and even reduce fatigue.8,9 Of course, sometimes joints are too painful or range of motion is too limited to manage walking or biking. If this is the case, people with RA may want to consider activities like tai chi, water therapy, or Pilates. A healthcare professional specializing in exercise rehabilitation or physical therapy can also offer advice about individual exercise choices.
Eat well. A nutritious diet can boost energy reserves. A well-balanced diet should include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein such as fish, nuts, and beans.
While controversial, some experts believe certain patients may have “trigger foods” that promote inflammation and should be avoided. For example, there is evidence that a vegan, gluten-free diet may reduce inflammation and improve rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.10,11,12
Stay hydrated. Doctors advise drinking plenty of water, because dehydration can trigger fatigue.
Limit caffeine intake. Caffeinated coffee and soda provide a short-lived energy boost, but once it wears off it can leave a person feeling more tired than before. Caffeine can also negatively impact sleep quality.
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Avoid energy drinks and energy supplements. While the very name of these drinks and supplements are enticing, many of them contain caffeine and other natural stimulants. In some cases this may give a temporary boost in energy level, but it can ultimately create problems with insomnia, high blood pressure, and increased fatigue.
Eating well and exercising typically will not eliminate fatigue altogether, but they can help reduce fatigue. Incremental improvements made over time can add up to a notable difference in everyday energy levels. There is no quick fix, only a healthy change in lifestyle that will make positive change.
- Løppenthin K, Esbensen BA, Jennum P, Østergaard M, Christensen JF, Thomsen T, Bech JS, Midtgaard J. Effect of intermittent aerobic exercise on sleep quality and sleep disturbances in patients with rheumatoid arthritis - design of a randomized controlled trial. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2014 Feb 21;15:49. doi: 10.1186/1471-2474-15-49. PubMed PMID: 24559487.
- Balsamo S, Diniz LR, dos Santos-Neto LL, da Mota LM. Exercise and fatigue in rheumatoid arthritis. Isr Med Assoc J. 2014 Jan;16(1):57-60. Review. PubMed PMID: 24575509.
- I. Hafstrom, B. Ringertz, A. Spangberg, L. von Zweigbergk, S. Brannemark, I. Nylander, et al. A vegan diet free of gluten improves the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: the effects on arthritis correlate with a reduction in antibodies to food antigens. Rheumatology (Oxford), 40 (10) (2001), pp. 1175–1179